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Social Media - Business Gets Social

Mar 12, 2008
Here is your crash course in small business marketing in 2008 - Web 2.0 for business.

Lets start with a few society trends to give the REALLY big picture.

Society trend number 1: People buy differently now than they did 10 years ago

Remember 10 years ago, when having a website was a "BIG THING". Now having a website is considered as essential as having a telephone. People's shopping style has changed. Most people go to the net to research new purchases or potential companies to work with.

I can't stress this enough. People buy differently now that they used to!

Unless you have a solid web presence, you are sending out a message that you are "old fashioned" and you are missing out on customers.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that if that's what you are comfortable with. I know a hairdresser in our local community who doesn't own a fax or email and she still does OK for trade.

In my book a website is number 1 priority for small business - it ranks right up there with business cards in terms of importance.

When I am talking with businesses I usually categories websites into about 4 different levels of websites:

1. Intro level - Simple graphics, basic text, possibly a contact form

2. Getting your feet wet - More fancy layout and design, autoresponders, basic e-commerce

3. Getting funky - This is where you add interactivity to your site - blogs, forums, online chat, fancy e-commerce

4. Serious business - You have your website as a portal to membership areas, private areas, serious information management systems behind your site

Most small businesses start with a level 1 or 2 website and then after a short time they upgrade their site.

When you are getting a website done, it pays to shop around. Not all web designers can do what you need them to do. Most can do good intro level sites, but as you go up the ladder there are less and less web designers who can honestly do what is needed.

Some key tips for level 1 & 2 Websites:

* Kill flash. If you want to be found by search engines generally stay away from flash intros. Google can't index flash so you can kiss being found on anything closer than page 456 goodbye. Like everything there is a work around for this problem - but most web designers of intro level sites don't have the skill to do this.

* Words are king. The search engines look at the words on your page to work out what the page is about. You need to have your keywords (the words people type into Google when looking for someone like you), scattered throughout your copy. I usually recommend the most important words within the first 90 characters on the page, highlighted in the first para as well as in the last paragraph. By clever use of keywords you can have your site found on page 1 of Google - not buried in the depths.

* Get help writing your copy. Many people make some really simple mistakes with their words. They talk about themselves and how wonderful they are (customers only want to know how you can help them), they don't give proof they are as good as they are, there is no call to action, they don't define their keywords.

Having someone help them write their copy increases customers and conversions.

Society Trend Number 2: The rise of the expert

Once you have a basic website you are ready to embrace society trend number 2. Everyone is an expert in something. The trend is we now value experts more than generalists. Think about the last time you went into an electrical store to buy a new computer. Did you want the junior casual or the experienced salesperson?
Not only do we want experts, we want to get to know our experts as people.

In the past we would read the dust cover of a book with a short author bio and that would be enough. Now we want to get to know who they are, what they think and do. We want to get a sense of their personality. Think of people like Joe Vitale, Deepak Chopra, Kevin Rudd (what a weird juxtaposition of names!) Each of those people we know as people and not just as a short bio.

This is one area small business has it all over the big guys. By our very nature we can be experts and people can get to know us as people. But how do you do this over the net?

Tips for getting expert

* Play to different communication preferences - there are visual, auditory and kinesthetic people in the world (a few other smaller groups but these are the main three). Getting expert you need to engage the three different groups of people.

* This is where article writing, Hub Pages, Squidoo pages, blogs and a host of others come into play. You write an article sharing information about your expertise. People looking for some information find your article, read the content and recognize your expertise. Make sure you talk from your heart and give people a sense of who you are as a person in your writing.

* Set up a You Tube video about your niche. You don't even have to be seen on film - PowerPoint's with voiceover works just as well. One of my colleagues just used photos and music with the last slide pointing to his website (and got massive traffic).

* Podcast or teleseminar - technology has made sharing your information via sound much more accessible. This works well for auditory people.

* Do one thing at a time to completion. My kids have that embedded in their brains (and I am sure I will have some expensive therapy in years to come over this one). Pick one thing on this list and get it right, before moving onto the next thing. That way you will avoid the overwhelm that this sort of thing can cause many people. Of course you could do what I do - leap into the deep end and swim like heck!

Society Trend Number 3: The rise of the community & shared expertise

In the past 5 years we have seen a change in society towards people wanting to belong to groups and communities. This is happening off line with people sea-changing to country towns, the rise and rise of networking groups and stronger parochial ties to towns, cities and countries.

This is also happening online. Wikipedia - the encyclopedia built by everyone is a great example of people wanting to share their knowledge. What has also happened is people are forming communities online. They want to be part of something bigger with similar interests.

There has been a massive rise in special interest forums and blog communities around niche topics. Find a niche and you will find a forum (support group) to help you deal with, learn or share information.

Why do people go there - they feel understood. They feel accepted. They feel part of the group.

Enter sites like My Space and Facebook. They are places where people can go to catch up with friends, hang out together, play games, share information. They are virtual country towns.

Sometimes online moves offline. I am part of a Brisbane Small Business Facebook group that meets for lunch and networking once a month.

There are business versions. If you have a small business you should be on LinkedIn. Business people from around the world freely share knowledge, referrals and resources. Where else could you put up a note "anyone know how to write a marketing plan?" and within a few days have highly skilled people helping you out with information and advice.

Tips for communities

* Before you run out to these places and ask questions - remember back to school. What did people say if a new kid muscled into the game and tried to take over the rules or only talk about themselves. Communities work on the same rules - share, give and take. Get this wrong and you are ostracized.

* Watch before leaping in - get a feel for how the place runs.

* Giving freely of your advice builds your credibility as an expert in your industry (and that is what leads to more business).

Society Trend Number 4: I'll have what she's having or everyone's a critic

The next trend is people now prefer to buy from recommendations from their friends, peers (or community). If they are going to buy a car they will ask their mate "I'm thinking about a go-go mobile - what have you heard about it?"

People can now spot sales pages at a thousand miles. Lots of social media help people to share their recommendations. If you have ever bought a book from Amazon you read other people's reviews and it helps to make a decision on what you will buy.

There is a huge range of social bookmarking sites where people get to give thumbs up or thumbs down to articles, websites or content. Their friends read their reviews and it helps them to make a decision on whether or not to bother with reading the content or visiting the website.

Sites like Digg, Technorati, Stumble, Propeller, Mr Wong and a host of other sites are examples of social bookmarking. They are communities also - so the same rules for community apply here.

So - once you have your website, started to build your expert status and joined in a community then it is time to move into social bookmarking. Why? It boosts your Google rank and your community can find you.

There are lots of variations within each of these levels and they are not exactly linear - but I promised you a quick and dirty lesson.

I haven't even touched on things such as pay per click ads, joint ventures etc as this article is purely focused on the social media.

So in answer to the original question are websites dead? No - they are just the foundation for the rest of your online marketing strategy.
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small Businesses with her business Heart Harmony. Ingrid writes a free weekly small business newsletter and Small Business Ideas blog for small businesses.www.heartharmony.com.au
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