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10 social media to-do’s for 2011 from Shashi Bellamkonda

Shashi Bellamkonda and Mary Fletcher Jones at the 2011 WWPR Annual Luncheon

Network Solutions’ social media “swami” Shashi Bellamkonda delivered an informative and inspiring keynote presentation yesterday at Washington Women in Public Relations‘ Annual Luncheon.  The topic was how to use social media effectively in public relations work.

Citing several famous case studies (e.g., BlendTec, Zappos, and Dell) and some compelling statistics (e.g., 35% of Fortune 500 companies have a presence on Twitter), Mr. Bellamkonda shared many useful tips, including ten recommendations for communicators in 2011

  1. Use Google Alerts and track online mentions of your name, your company name, and your children’s names.
  2. Leave comments on blogs.  If you write blogs, write your articles in a way to invite comments.  Don’t tell the whole story in your blog articles, advised Bellamkonda.
  3. Own a smart phone, to be accessible at all times.
  4. Participate on social networks, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.  Bellamkonda said these are tools that can change public opinion.
  5. Create a personal or corporate blog.
  6. Use social media news releases.  The use of these tools “enhances your traditional marketing approaches, but does not replace them.”
  7. Create social media guidelines for your company that emphasize what employees may do, instead of telling them what not to do.  Refer employees to the code of conduct for concerns such as confidentiality.
  8. Create videos and podcasts.  Bellamkonda shared examples from Goodwill Industries.
  9. Train people in your company to use social media effectively.  “If you’re the social media expert in your company,” advised Bellamkonda, “your goal for 2011 should be that you’re going to create at least ten other experts at your company.”
  10. Meet offline. Attend grassroots events and local tweetups.  He emphasized the importance of building personal relationships to achieve business goals.

Follow Shashi Bellamkonda on Twitter @shashib.



The only social media you really need

Fletcher Prince ButtonsYou know, there are oodles of social media applications out there.  Most of them are great, but indulge in too many and it can be a big time-waster.

You don’t have to be an expert in everything! I’m not.  I’ve explored many of them, out of curiosity, but these are my all-time favorite, tried-and-true social media applications that I recommend for just about every business and nonprofit organization.  All are FREE.

There are others that do certain things better, but for simplicity and ease, these are the best.  I think it’s best to just use a system that works, consistently.

  • For engagement: Facebook Pages.  Not Facebook Groups or Facebook Profiles.  Pages.
  • For monitoring: Google Alerts.
  • For images: Flickr.  And it is well worth it to pay the $25 a year to get a PRO Account.
  • For quick monitoring of the conversation (maybe 5 minutes a day) : Twitter and Twitter Lists.  Following lots of people (and then getting lots of followers) is manageable if you divide the people you follow into lists and don’t worry about the rest.  Makes it quick to check in.  If you really must tweet more than twice a day, than I like HootSuite for scheduling your tweets (at least one hour apart).  But honestly, personally, I never use it.  I just use Twitter Lists.
  • For networking in my industry: LinkedIn
  • For online video: YouTube.  Yes, I have used the others.  Still can’t beat the power of YouTube.
  • For podcasting: Podomatic.
  • For blogs: WordPress.com.
  • For event promotion: EventBrite.

These are reliable sites (with the exception of Twitter, which fails too much) that work well for me for 99% of what I need to do.

Which ones do you find really indispensable in your work, and why?

How to manage online review sites associated with your business

Good online reviews can make your business, and bad online reviews can break your business.

If you listen to anything I’ve told you about marketing your small business, let it be this: proactively take control of your online reputation, as much as you can, now.  Sometimes there is damage that cannot be undone later.

We all know if you are in business for any length of time, someone you deal with is going to be unhappy.  The amount of damage to your reputation that can result from that unhappy customer (or ex-employee or competitor) depends on how much disaster mitigation you put into place before the negative review is posted online.  And that requires some planning (which is where I often come in).  Here are four ways you can mitigate for the worst:

  1. Publish as much content online for your business as possible. This should be an ongoing effort. Create a Facebook Page for your business, a Twitter account, Flickr photos, and a YouTube channel.  Create a LinkedIn Business Listing and claim all your listings online.  If you get a negative review — and that’s all that people see about your business when they search for you online — you’re in a bad place.  But if you’ve taken the time to deliberately market your business: collecting and publishing testimonials, publicizing good reviews when you receive them, uploading images and video, writing a blog or managing a Facebook Page — then you are in a much better position.  Then, the negative review may not be the first thing a person sees in the search engine results, and the good content will balance the bad.
  2. Don’t let your customers leave unhappy; fix the problem now. Constantly check in with your customers before they have the chance to write a bad review.  Don’t wait until your guests check out of your hotel or bed and breakfast to ask them how things are going — call the first night and make sure everything is to their satisfaction.  If you manage a restaurant, make sure you walk the floor and ask each and every customer, every day, every meal, if everything is completely to their satisfaction.  And if it isn’t — do anything you have to do right then to make it right.
  3. Make it easy for people to review your business online. You can prevent fallout from negative online reviews by encouraging online reviews.  To do this, post links to review sites on your website, blog, and Facebook Page for example, so people can easily find your listings and read other reviews.  Most online reviews tend to be positive; Yelp claims that 85% of their reviews are 3 stars or higher.
  4. Develop a way to keep track of your customers so you can promptly respond to complaints posted online, whenever possible. For example, if someone makes an appointment for service, you probably have their phone number.  If you then discover that the person has written a negative review, you can contact that person to learn more.  In some cases, the person may go back and revise their review! It is worth almost any effort to turn that situation around. Monitoring your reviews are key; you have to have business listings with review sites and Google Alerts in place to quickly respond.

Sure, there are some customers that will never be satisfied, but heed my advice: take your online reviews seriously.  Negative reviews — approached the right way — can be a positive thing for your business!  They are not a forum for excuses, but they can be an opportunity to tell your story, and to turn things around, even get advice.  They can help you identify trouble spots and service issues that can keep your business from getting more negative reviews.

Here are five important online review sites, plus strategies for dealing with them.

Yelp Reviews

Last month — in one month — 38 million people visited Yelp, which features reviews about  everything from dentists to realtors to restaurants (see chart for breakdown).  If you do not have a business listing on Yelp, you can create one. If you do have one, you should go ahead and claim it (it is free), and upload as much content as you can: upload photos, logos,  special offers  You can also monitor activity on your listing — all for free.  You have the option of responding publicly or privately (or both) to reviews on Yelp, and Yelp provides excellent guidelines for handling both negative and positive feedback from reviewers that I recommend all business owners read.

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor attracts 35 million visitors monthly who read the restaurant, hotel, and attraction reviews.  If you have a restaurant, hotel, or attraction, you MUST claim your TripAdvisor business listing and take full advantage of the free features it offers business owners, including the opportunity to respond publicly to positive and negative reviews.  You can also upload images and video on TripAdvisor.  Think about that: you could upload video testimonials.  TripAdvisor is tremendously influential and provides a way for you to enter the conversation.

Google Maps/Google Places

You may have a business listing for Google Maps or Google Places.  If you do, you should claim it (it is free).  If you don’t, you can create one for free, and I recommend that you do.  Unless you are a very small business, chances are one will be created for you eventually, if you do not, and this is a listing over which you want to have as much control as possible.

The bad news is you have virtually no control over the the reviews posted on your Google listing, which includes both reviews posted directly on the site, as well as reviews found on TripAdvisor and elsewhere online.  It’s hard to tell who the reviewers are, and you cannot respond to the reviews, publicly or privately, and there is no real way to remove a listing, unless it was fraudulently put up.

Yahoo Local Reviews

Yahoo Local doesn’t wield the power of Yelp — it appears to receive about 11 million views per month — but it does offer free business listings.  It is possible to comment on the reviews that are posted there.

Facebook Page Reviews

If you have a Facebook Page, you have the option of putting a Reviews tab on your Page.  Should you do this?  In my opinion, no.  Facebook Page reviews are not that searchable.  I think you should have a tab for reviews on your page, but you can create that manually with FBML and add your reviews, list style.  Then you can add a link to Yelp or TripAdvisor to encourage your Facebook Page users to visit those sites and review your business.

Should you pay for online reviews?

I hope you know that the answer is no.  You should not hire someone to do this, or ask a friend or family member (unless they identify themselves as such) to write online reviews for you, or reward people for good reviews.  People see right through that.  Good thing, too, as ex-employees and competitors are not above writing fake negative reviews to sink a business.  Sylvia Rector, a restaurant critic, has identified several ways that she and other savvy review readers may suspect the veracity of a review:

  • The reviewer only has one review.
  • Several reviews are written in one day.
  • There are few specific details but extreme opinions.

Has your business been reviewed online?  How did you respond?  What are  your plans for managing online reviews?

Twitter Updates and Facebook Page Updates for Your Business

Are you using Twitter to market your business or nonprofit organization?  Here are some guidelines for posting updates on your business Twitter account.  These recommendations would also apply to updates you post on your company’s Facebook Page and your LinkedIn Profile.

Keep Focused on a Key Message

Your business probably has a key message (or a set of key messages) that guide the kind of content you post on social networking sites.  For example, the key message for Fletcher Prince is “creative and affordable marketing solutions for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.”  So, I would not Tweet about television advertising, for example, because that does not fall under the category of affordable marketing solutions for a small business. Think about what kind of information would be most useful and relevant to your followers.

What Kinds of Updates Work Best for a Business on Twitter?

Here are some suggestions for the types of updates to post on Twitter and Facebook Pages for your business.

  • Communicate with journalists.  Post links to press releases, articles, and blog entries when they tweet about something related to your industry or issue.
  • Respond to consumer questions, concerns, and praise.
  • Announce new products, sales, or special offers.
  • Request feedback from your followers on new products or approaches.
  • Announce new hires, upcoming events, and good news.
  • Post links to interesting articles related to your subject matter expertise.
  • Never rant or post negative comments.

It may be tempting to lapse into conversational updates about movies and the weather and such (and I break my own rules on this; I’m trying to do better), but to maintain the integrity of your brand online, and deliver on the promise of your brand to your followers, it’s best to keep the updates relevant and useful.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions or ask for feedback.  Personally, I think that type of engagement works much better on Facebook Page updates, rather than Twitter, because streams of conversation are so much easier to follow on Facebook than Twitter.  But you can also use that approach on Twitter.

When and How Often to Post

You can maintain a brand presence by updating your Twitter account and Facebook Page once or twice or day, during business hours, Monday-Friday.  Many premium accounts post updates with that frequency.

You can tweet more frequently than that, but ideally you should space your Twitter updates at least an hour apart.  You can schedule your tweets with a free, third-party Twitter management application, such as Hoot Suite.   But I feel you should have a pretty compelling reason to update your account that frequently.  I don’t recommend live-tweeting events or interviews on your business Twitter account, or really, at all.  It will not help your brand.  A better approach for reporting would be to write a summary and post it on your blog (which you can link to in a tweet).

Social Media Tactics Used by US Small Businesses, December 2009 (% of respondents)

Using Twitter as a Customer Service Channel

The truth is, however, that Twitter is not the most highly optimized platform.  Facebook Page updates may be slightly more so, but only slightly more.  Your well-crafted update and link can also get lost in the immense amount of information posted every second on Twitter, and no one is going to see it, unless they are following you.  (Search engines do crawl some of it, but very little of it will actually show up in Google, in a way that is meaningful to your business.)

Therefore, the best Twitter and Facebook update strategy for your business or nonprofit may be to post daily useful updates, but to concentrate your involvement on thoughtful and prompt responses to what others are saying about your brand and products (or industry) — and responding with thank you’s, clarifications, and offers of support or help.  Using the Twitter search function and creating Google Alerts will help you monitor these online mentions of your brand or products on Twitter so you can respond to them.

Keep your Facebook and Twitter updates separate

I recommend that you keep your Twitter and Facebook updates separate, that is, that you do not feed your Twitter stream to your Facebook account, so that the updates are identical.  While Twitter and Facebook are both social networks, they really are two very different platforms, with different capabilities, audiences, and tone.  Twitter updates often seem out-of-place on Facebook.  However, you may safely feed your Twitter stream to LinkedIn.  LinkedIn isn’t used in the same way Facebook is.  I think that would be fine.

How are you using Twitter and Facebook Pages?

Thanks for your comments and opinions about how to best use Twitter and Facebook Pages for your small business or nonprofit organization.  Please follow Fletcher Prince on Twitter and Fan us on Facebook.

Monitor Your Online Reputation

yahoo alerts

At Fletcher Prince, we use Google Alerts and Yahoo alerts to track and respond to online mentions about our company and employees.  Here are some resources to consider as you monitor your brand online.

NY Public Relations Examiner Anna de Souza has created this handy list of links for monitoring your brand online.  Here are the free online services.  Read the entire article, including a list of fee-based monitoring services.

  1. Google Alerts: Likely the number one service for tracking keywords or phrases on the WWW. It’s recommended you place your keywords in quotes to filter through more precisely.
  2. Yahoo Alerts: Works similarly to Google, but may catch some additional webpages.
  3. Technorati.com: Offers real-time search for user-generated media (blogs, etc.). Also lists the top 100 blogs on the web.
  4. Nielsen’s BuzzMetrics’ BlogPulse.com: An automated trend discovery system for blogs tracked by trusted Nielsen. It analyzes and reports on daily activity in the blogosphere.
  5. BoardTracker.com: Tracks all threads on forums and boards and offers email and instant message alerts on relevant discussions!
  6. Keotag.com: Very cool service that allows you to search keywords on YouTube, Yahoo, Technorati, Twitter and much more in one fell swoop.
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