Exploring Social Networking Sites

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the February 2009 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Last month we started down the path to social media and setting into motion some tactics that could make 2009 an unbelievable year for you by going over some of the Social Media Networking Fundamentals. Now, it really gets interesting as we roll up our sleeves and take a gander at some of the venues to explore.

Ala Carte

First, it’s important to remember that social media takes commitment and time. Secondly, it’s important to understand that social media isn’t one-size fits all. You need to look at the social media offerings as an ala carte menu, not a buffet. Carefully select what interests you and makes the most sense for you, rather than trying to follow the pack or filling up your plate with everything in sight.

With that said, one way to size up social media venues is based on how active or passive they may be. I’ll point out some examples here to give you an idea, but even the most passive venues still aren’t “set and forget.” Also keep in mind that I’m just providing a few appetizers of highly popular venues that span across a number of different types, but the list of venues and types is nearly endless.

Going Old School

Online forums often get overlooked or not counted by some as being social media or Web 2.0, but I still think they served as the birth for social media. Forums may exist as a site or as part of a site. You’ll quickly recognize their familiar “message board” format where people post a message within a specific category, and then other members and the original poster begin a back-and-forth conversation.

In this case, there aren’t specific examples because it really comes down to niche. The niche may be topical (e.g., business, hobby, etc.), geographical (e.g., city, state, region, etc.), or just about anything else or combination (e.g., condo home buyers in Madison). Forum participation can become time consuming, but it is something that you can also control fairly easily.

Share and Share Alike

Other popular social media venues revolve around things like images and video. Flickr.com and YouTube.com are top examples. Here you create an account and upload photos or videos to share with others. These can be fairly passive venues that provide additional online exposure. And if you have limited storage space or bandwidth for your Web site, you get these other sites to take the hit for you when you embed them into your site.

Videos can be especially useful, such as creating demonstrations or how-to guides. People interested in your topic might come across your video, watch it, and then click over to your Web site for more information. These venues can be more active if you decide to participate on the sites by responding to comments and questions or in communicating with others, but this isn’t a requirement.

Personal and Professional Networking

Facebook.com, MySpace.com, and LinkedIn.com are big venues for networking. While the first two tend more toward the personal and the latter toward professional, the lines are pretty gray. Effectiveness of these venues requires a bit more active participation. They each have their own style, flavor, demographics — though that’s blurring more and more as well — and rules. As a first step, I’d still recommend getting started on LinkedIn if you haven’t already (refer back to the June ’08 issue if you have it or pop over to the Instillery and read “Are You Linked In?”).

As I mentioned, this is just barely scratching the surface. Unfortunately, there is no way to go into an in-depth discussion here about specific strategies as they really must be tailored to your needs.

Tips for Social Success

  • Visit social venues and get a lay of the land, how they feel for you and how they might work for your needs.
  • Determine how much time you think they may take (then double that) and how much time you think you can put into them.
  • Consider different options, such as joining and actively participating, or online advertising through these venues.
  • Read and understand the rules for the venue, especially as it may pertain to commercial activity or business, but also get a feel for the unwritten rules of etiquette.
  • Turn back to January’s article for a reminder of some of the general basics.

Social Media Networking Fundamentals

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the January 2009 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

As we kick off a new year, I thought this would be a good time to open our horizons to new frontiers. What hopefully makes this particularly exciting is that it isn’t dependent on how elaborate or simple your Web site is, or in fact, whether you even have a site yet. For those who have been feeling behind the times because they haven’t made the leap onto the Web yet, this is a way to get out on the leading edge.

What I’m talking about is social networking. You may have also heard related phrases like “Web 2.0” or “social media.” In fact, if you created your LinkedIn profile after the “Are You Linked In?” article — way to go — then you’ve already been dipping your toe in the social waters.

LinkedIn is a great place to get started, but it’s really just one example. For 2009, lets broaden our horizons and get out and socialize a little bit more. Remember, this is something that can be explored even if you don’t have a site.

Socializing Requires Participation

Wallflowers, just like those old junior-high dances, just showing up probably isn’t going to get you very far. Fortunately, unlike those dances, the Web provides a little extra buffer that might make it a bit easier to put ourselves out there. This analogy isn’t meant to limit this discussion to online dating. The social Web carries huge ramifications for business as well.

This idea of participation is absolutely critical, which is why it is the first thing on our list. It is so critical, that without it, don’t bother. The social Web (even for business) is all about connecting, communicating and interacting with others.

Interact, Don’t Advertise

While we are on this topic, let’s make one distinction very clear. There are social media and networking sites that you may want to explore. Some of these may provide opportunity to advertise to their members or visitors, but that is simply online marketing that happens to target social networking sites. Interaction isn’t about advertising, but participating in conversations, sharing thoughts, ideas, concerns, advice, photos, video, etc.

Even when you are a community member, it’s critical to understand the type of interaction and communication involved. Don’t view social networking as an advertising channel where your message is “Look at us, aren’t we great! Hey, I’ve got something to sell.” Rather than viewing the other members as customers, see them as peers, around which you both share a mutual interest. And no, that mutual interest probably isn’t you, and if it is, I’d still recommend focusing on the broader interest around which your company is involved — the type of products or services you offer, or their purpose.

Along these same lines, focus on being genuine. Don’t pretend to be someone else, especially one of your customers who just can’t stop raving about you. If you head down this path, understand that you won’t be alone, and like those before you, will probably be discovered and may well undue much more than just your social networking efforts.

Next time, I’ll introduce you to some of the popular and important social networking and media sites that you might want to consider getting involved with.

Quick Tips to Social Success

  • Set aside time to participate within the community regularly.
  • Be genuine and transparent about who you are or the company you represent.
  • Don’t use this as a sales channel — it’s about rapport and relationships.
  • Some community members will be skeptical and some may launch attacks at you or question your motives. Be open and graceful to their concerns, but don’t launch counter attacks or become defensive, rather, let your actions and time prove otherwise.
  • Social networking online is just like offline … the more you give, the more you’ll get out of it.

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.

Greetings from Google Local!

Originally published at “InsideSEM.com” in October, 2007.

Forget ocean sunsets, waterfalls, castles, and ancient cathedrals, those four words may make for the best postcard you’ll ever receive. If you haven’t received this postcard, or an automated phone call from your friends at Google Local, then let me tell you what you are missing.

Location-based and local search can be a powerful tool for any business, yet many businesses and websites don’t fully utilize this resource. Whether looking for a nearby wine café or wineries to visit for a vacation in Sonoma, these are considered local search. If you haven’t focused some of your web presence efforts on local search, then you may never know what business you missed out on. And as mobile search grows as the numbers of mobile phone users with web access on their phones grows, the importance of local search will grow exponentially as well.

So what can you do to improve your “local” presence?

Here are three main areas that you can focus on today, most of which will cost you nothing more than time and a minimal amount of effort on your part. Since we started this conversation talking about local search, we should probably lead off then with how you can tap into the search engine’s local search offerings.

Local Search Listings

Each of the major search engines has implemented local search offerings. In the past, these were primarily focused on separate search interfaces that may have pulled results specialty indexes than their “standard” search. Many people may not have even been aware these special local indexes, or any of the other specialty indexes, existed. As all the engines continue to roll out blended search results, which builds search results by pulling relevant information from the different specialty indexes along with the standard index, we’ll continue to see more and more local search results being integrated into the regular searches.

Each search engine has its own requirements for how you add your business and website to their local index. Google (local.google.com) gives you the opportunity to have the above mentioned postcard with a special PIN sent to your address or to validate site ownership through an automated phone call. Yahoo (listings.local.yahoo.com) and MSN (local.live.com) have online signs ups, and the folks at Ask (city.ask.com) will give you an email address and a short list of the information they need from you.

In less than an hour, you can establish your local listing or at least get the ball rolling in the primary search engines and it won’t cost you a cent. This may be the most productive hour in your day.

Local Web Listings

The next local listing opportunity you need to pursue is through other websites. This can be especially important when these other websites are achieving higher positions in search engine results for searches that you would like to come up for. But it also has the added benefit of possibly being found for searches that are related to your location that you may not be targeting or as likely to come up for, such as general location searches about your city. In these cases, people may not have been looking for you or even for what you are offering, but when they stumble onto your listing, they may decide to bookmark your site for future reference or decide they are interested.

The opportunities vary widely here by industry and locations, but everyone should be able to find at least a few places to get their site listed. These also may vary from free to paid listings as you’ll have to decide what makes the most sense. Some of the logical choices are listing opportunities through your local chamber, other local business groups, as well as business listings on local media sites, such as TV, radio, and newspaper. Don’t forget local online phone directory listings and any other local business directories that may exist for your city or state.

Then you can look for other listing opportunities by performing searches in each of the engines for search phrases that you are targeting or that you feel your target audience may perform to find the products or services you offer. Look through the results for any sites that may provide additional opportunities for you to be listed.

Your Website

This just as easily could have been the first place to start when talking about local search. Just like any other target search phrases, optimizing your site for local search is important and completely within your control. Sadly, many websites fail miserably when it comes to this basic step. What you do on your own site also varies greatly depending on your business, whether you have one location or several, whether you are located in one city or throughout the country, etc. Below are some ideas to get you started:

  • Full address information on your Contact and/or About page.
  • City and state and maybe even full address in the footer section on every page of your site.
  • Listings for all of your locations, or separate pages for each location if warranted.
  • Including h-card(http://microformats.org/wiki/hcard) formatting for your address information.

While this is just scratching the surface and how you specifically implement local search strategies is well beyond what could be covered here, you should be well on your way to a stronger local search presence.