2017 was jam packed with a variety of new methods, theories and tools for spreading the word about a business. With the plethora of social sites, new apps and expert suggestions, I had my hands full. Especially since I make it a policy to never recommend anything to my clients I have not tried out myself. But there was one experiment I tried this year that produced better results than any social media campaign or speech I gave. It’s not a new theory, hot app or magical software. Rather, it’s a good old-fashioned core principle of business development that I have taught my clients for years. Click here to read it: This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
Recently a new branding client called me in a panic saying, “We have to get on Snapchat. It’s the hottest thing. We can’t miss the boat.” I gently pointed out to the client that their core customer was women age 45-60, more likely the Pinterest — not the Snapchat — crowd.
This intense pressure to keep up with the online Joneses has led to a flurry of action, but not necessarily impact. The idea that you should be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, and more leads many business owners to join each and every social media network–but do none of them well.
Instead, I encourage my small-business clients to think through the following three critical questions before choosing which social media sites to focus on:
1. Where and how does our ideal audience(s) consume their information?
Are they more likely to be reading blogs at Inc.com or surfing their Twitter feed three times a day? The answers help determine the social media site(s) that makes the best use of your resources.
2. What are the demographics of the various sites?
It’s important to take into consideration the details of each site you are considering. For example:
Facebook. According to the Pew report, 72 percent of female and 63 percent of male Internet users are on Facebook, equaling over a billion users a month. The site also has a strong presence across several age groups with a majority being 18- to 29-year-olds, but with solid users in the 30-49 and 50-64 brackets as well.
For businesses that have a strong business-to-consumer component, Facebook is a great place to showcase your brand personality since the site supports posting pictures, quotes, and fun updates–all opportunities to present your brand narrative to followers.
Twitter. Twitter has an estimated 250 million unique monthly visitors but according to the Pew report is marginally more popular with males and with users ages 18-29. Unlike LinkedIn, where status updates can be weekly, successful Tweeters post at least 2-3 times a day, but no more than 8-10. Businesses using Twitter as a main social media strategy need to have a significant amount of how-to and informational tips, ideas, strategies, and suggestions they can tweet.
LinkedIn. Considered the top B2B site for professionals, LinkedIn tends to attract an older, more educated and higher earning crowd than its competitors. One report by Royal Pingdom reveals that 79 percent of LinkedIn users are 35 or older. In short, LinkedIn is all about business. According to Lab42, top-level executives primarily use LinkedIn for industry networking and promoting their business.
Pinterest. Pinterest is best known for appealing to a mostly female audience, with 72 percent of users being women at an average age of between 25 and 54. Twenty-five percent of Pinterest users have earned a bachelor’s or higher degree, and the majority have a household income of between $25,000 and $75,000.
3. Do we have the time, talent, and/or money to pursue this social media tactic with excellence?
Another client I was working with–the CEO of a mid-cap high-tech firm–felt strongly that writing a regular blog would be of great benefit to his CEO brand and his company brand. The problem? He wasn’t a very good writer.
I suggested someone from his staff might take on capturing his ideas and turning them into initial blog posts. Sadly, no such person existed. As for hiring a professional writer, the costs–given the quality the client wanted–were prohibitive.
In the final analysis the client settled on a strategy featuring a monthly, rather than a weekly, blog. He also went whole hog on his Twitter strategy–reaching out to influencers in their space to gain brand recognition.
Regardless of which direction you decide to take your social media strategy in, the most important aspects to building your brand online are consistency and quality. Don’t let your social media accounts go idle, and don’t bombard your followers with promotion-only posts.
Let the particular medium dictate what and how often you tweet, post, or pin, and you will be on your way to branding your business like a pro.
Years ago I went to visit some friends who lived in South Lake Tahoe. As I came over the crest of the hill, the panoramic view opened up before me. White snowy mountains, a deep blue lake, and crisp green pine trees–I was hooked.
So hooked in fact that I decided to buy a cute cabin in a quiet neighborhood a few short blocks from the lake. As part of my ownership obligation, I was advised by my local realtorto make my new home as “cabiny” as possible. The reasoning behind this was that renters apparently expect a Tahoe cabin to look, well–like a Tahoe cabin.
When I inquired as to what exactly comprised this mountain-esqe decor, I was shown images of log furniture, pinecone ornamentation, and anything with a moose on it–moose placemats, moose lampshades, moose pencil cup holders, and yes, even a moose toilet paper holder.
Despite the fact that no actual moose have been seen in South Lake Tahoe for decades, the moose theme is so synonymous with cabin life that my friend Lynette and I coined the term “moosey” as a kind of shorthand to represent all things South Lake Tahoe–decoration-wise, that is.
Essentially we had transformed the word “moose” from a noun to a verb. For example, my cabin did not need an interior design update. Rather, it was in need of a moose-i-fication makeover and some moose-ing up.
The slang name for this process is “verbing.” The official term, according to etymologists, is “anthimeria,” meaning a functional shift in the use of a word.
Successful brands do this all the time. Google has now become so associated with the activity of searching the web that regardless of the search engine you may be using (Yahoo!, Bing, YouTube, etc.) the common expression is “I’m going to Google that.”
Hoping to turn a noun into a verb in your business? Bear in mind that this requires a fair amount of fate–one communications professor, Scott R. Hamula of Ithaca College, says it’s “more aspirational than achievable and involves a lot of serendipity.”
Regardless, here are three steps you can follow to help lady luck moosify (so to speak) your brand:
1. Replace a sentence for the action with a single word.
Brands that become verbalized replace sentences that represent actions with single words. For example, people don’t say, “I will Gmail that” because a word for that–“email”–already existed. They do however say, “I’ll Uber,” because prior only a sentence such as “I’m going to call a car service to get home from the party,” could convey the idea.
- What actions do people take when they use your service or product?
- Is there a current word that exists for that? If not, is there a single word you can extract to represent the action?
- Are you the first to bring this to market? If not, is there an aspect of what you are doing that is first?
- Is there a way we can make our brand an “ing” so that it is a thing?
2. Keep it to two or three syllables.
A Skype call, Google search, Photoshop image, or FedEx package. All of these have one thing in common: They’re simple to say and contain very few syllables. In general the shorter and sweeter you can keep the term, the greater the chance you have that it will catch on.
3. Socialize it.
The more you can use your noun as a verb in your marketing collateral and conversation with your customer base, the stronger the possibility that it will become verbalized. For example, Twitter created and promoted the idea of “tweeting”–and now even presidents do it.
One word of warning.
Turning your company brand into a verb can potentially endanger the trademark, if it becomes the generic term for the product or service; i.e., Xerox (for copies) and Kleenex (for tissues). Barbara Findlay Schenck, coauthor of Branding for Dummies, points out that Rollerblade inline skates spends heavily to educate consumers that rollerblading isn’t a sport; it’s a specific brand.
Consider the trademark case where Windsurfer applied for a wind-propelled, surfboard-like apparatus patented in 1968. The term was presented as a verb (windsurfing) to describe the sport of sailboarding, and the courts found the mark to be generic and no longer protectable.
If all this has your head spinning and you feel like you might need some time to step back and think about how to verbalize your brand, I’ve got a nice cabin in the woods that’s all moosed up and ready to go.
Watching the Republican presidential debate tonight, I took note of how the candidates’ personal brands played out. Here are 3 personal brand lessons business people can learn from just a few of them.
Donald Trump: To Thy Known Brand Be True
As Popeye famously said, “I am what I am.” Whether you consider him to be a breath of fresh air or a blow hard, no one can deny that Trump is always (without apology) “the Donald.”
No matter the stage (be it on a presidential campaign or as a tough boss on The Apprentice), he embraces his personal brand and wears it proudly. Trump’s consistency in his personal brand campaign style and talking points reinforces and solidifies his brand image.
Chris Christie: Show, Don’t Tell
In last night’s debate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said:
- “I’ll be able to fire a whole bunch of IRS agents.”
- “When President Christie is in the oval office, I will have your back.”
- “It is suffocating small business; it is suffocating the folks who are trying to make a living.”
These statements are both emotional and visual in nature — which also makes them memorable. Governor Christie didn’t just give statistics and facts; he consistently answered questions by weaving together stories, strategies and even humor.
Christie knows how to paint a picture, and this has the impact of making his personal brand feel more dimensional than some of his more one-note opponents.
Marco Rubio: The Power of Personal Story
As he did in the previous debate, Rubio referred to his mother being a maid and his father being a bartender. He’s talked about growing up with modest means, his Cuban immigrant family and recent financial struggles. In short, he is the living embodiment of the America Dream — in action.
Later in the debate, he remarked again about the importance of vocational training. Coming from his background, he has the credibility to say it. Rubio makes himself accessible and authentic by connecting his personal story to his points of view.
In Personal Branding – Even The Small Stuff Counts
The Washington Examiner recently did a post on the personality of the 2016 presidential candidates using an online Twitter evaluation tool called Analyze Words. The tool looks at emotional, social and thinking styles — based on each candidate’s recent tweets. Among the Republican results:
- Jeb Bush appears to be an optimist.
- Ben Carson is upbeat — but with a low analytic thinking style.
- Marco Rubio scored high for “in the moment” thinking.
I don’t think that tweets (which may or may not have been written by the candidates themselves) are the best indication of a contender’s brand. I do, however, feel that much can be learned from listening to how the candidates respond under the pressure of fast-paced questioning.
A Personal Brand Is Not Static
While Donald Trump may be the current Republican front runner, a recent likability poll from McClatchy-Marist reported that 49% of Republicans said that the more they hear Trump — the less they like him. By contrast, in that same poll, 58% of Republicans surveyed said the more they hear Marco Rubio, the more they like him.
The lesson here? A personal brand is not made (or broken) by one meeting, one interview, one action or one debate. If the presidential candidates don’t know that already — they’re about to find out.
This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.
Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, is due out from Entrepreneur Press in May of 2016. Pre order on Amazon.com now.
In a survey, the Society of New Communications Research, explored how media and journalism are evolving. In the study, journalists reported using more social media in their reporting including:
- 78% of the journalists surveyed said they use company websites in their reporting
- 75% use Facebook
- 69% use Twitter
- 54% use online video
- 31% use LinkedIn
In addition, 68% of journalists said that their reliance on social media has increased significantly, and 58% sometimes quote bloggers in stories.
So what does all this mean to the small business owner? It means that effective use of social media is key and critical to being found and written about by the press. But to score these PR points and get reporters to respond to you in the first place, it pays to be proactive by signing up for reporter services such as HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and ProfNet.
At least three times a day, I diligently check my email for queries from these sites showcasing serious reporters looking for qualified sources. I comb through the postings journalists have placed and respond with my best pitch — promoting myself, or one of my clients, as the perfect person to fit the bill.
While services such as ProfNet and HARO can provide you with the opportunity to connect with reporters from top-tier media outlets, the chances of a writer using you as a source increase when you respond in the right ways, including:
• Go straight to the point and give the reporter what they ask for up front. If they request your two best tips, send them. Don’t tell the reporter to call you or email you for them.
• Make your bio short and specific. Avoid submitting endless paragraphs on all your fabulous achievements since grade school — reporters don’t have the time to sort through it all. To get their attention, write a few short sentences that show the journalist exactly why you would be a good source for their story and what, specifically, makes you an authority on the topic.
• Respond right away. Whenever possible, respond to a posted inquiry within two hours. Yes, I know you’re busy, and you have a life, but most reporters get hundreds of responses to a single request and are usually on a tight deadline. After a certain point, they stop looking. So if you want to be seen, be among the first to respond.
While a well-written response to a reporter’s query can’t guarantee you a call back every time, just keeping these few small things in mind when you do reply can help you score big more often.
Have you used reporter services? What results have you had? What has worked best? We would love to hear your comments.
In today’s crowded media landscape, businesses are continually on the lookout for ways to stand apart from their competitors. Enter surveys, a cost-effective method to promote brand awareness. A survey worthy of media attention is more than just a few questions randomly asked. Instead, it’s a carefully crafted instrument that, when done right, can make the media sit up and take notice. Here are a few suggestions for making your survey something a busy editor will want to pick up publish.
Use a combination of questions: “A common belief among people who use PR for coverage is that they have to ask quirky and zany questions,” says Nathan Richter, a senior PR pollster at Wakefield. While a few creative questions that grab an editor’s initial attention are fine, they need to be balanced with credible ones, which compel an editor to cover a story. For example: when online discount travel service Travelzoo.com sponsored a survey, they asked people more creative questions, such as, “Would you be willing to stand on a cross-country flight in order to save 50% off the cost of the airline ticket?” But they also asked more traditional market research questions, such as, “Do you expect to be traveling more or less than last year for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday?”
Avoid obvious commercial messaging: Many PR executives and business owners assume that it’s OK to make their pitch a commercial message, so long as they put survey data behind it. “Not so,” says Richter. “If company X wants to be branded as the ‘hip’ company, they don’t write a press release with a headline that reads, ‘Survey shows company X is the hippest.’”
Instead, make your release about the bigger picture of the survey and the story behind it. The idea is that by being the sponsor of a great story — not the star — you will achieve media coverage and visibility with your target market.
Emphasize the scientific: As more businesspeople include surveys as part of their PR strategy, they are turning to do-it-yourself tools to accommodate their needs. But whether you conduct the survey yourself or hire a professional firm to conduct it on your behalf, to be credible, it needs to be conducted in a scientific manner. To emphasize to the media that the survey your company conducted is based in proper research protocols, Richter suggests it include:
- Name of the research vendor
- Margin of error
- Dates the study was conducted
- Sample size used
- Methods used in conducting the survey
Remember, the press and media are constantly on the lookout for relevant and timely surveys that they can “hook” a story around. Provide them with a well crafted, properly researched and interestingly reported study or survey and your company could find itself swimming in ink.
“If you write it, they will come.” Well at least that’s what all those small businesses that start a blog in the hope of driving hoards of potential customers to their site anticipate will happen.
While writing a regular blog is a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your industry and help potential customers get the information they need about your company, the next hurdle is actually getting people to read it.
One important distinction to make is that unlike social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn — where the content is secondary — people participate within social bookmarking sites for the purpose of finding specific web content. So researching each site and knowing what types of content do the best for that audience will help increase your success.
Here then are just a few best practices for using social bookmarking to promote your small businesses blog:
Bookmark your best, but not every post
More than likely, your current blogging platform makes it easy to share your blog posts with social bookmarking sites to which you already belong. By loading the login information for each social bookmarking site onto your blogging software, you can quickly and easily share your selected posts. For example, after writing a particularly powerful blog post that you feel fits with the content needs of a site, you can tag it to your business Facebook page, to Digg, to StumbleUpon and to any other social bookmarking sites you choose.
Have social bookmarking icons available at the end of each post
To really maximize the effectiveness of social bookmarking, place icons such as ShareThis at the end of every blog post on your website. This makes it easy for visitors who belong to sites to share the posts they find useful as well. Here are a few of the most popular sites and where their share button codes can be found:
Pay attention to both the big players and the up and coming. Robert Farrington says that creating backlinks to your blog via social bookmarking is a key strategy for increasing traffic to your site. Farrington makes the point, however, that while the big players (Facebook, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit) tend to dominate, newer sites such as Y Combinator are worth a try. Best known as the venture capital muscle behind many of today’s social media players, this site’s readers are looking for hot new content that is targeted toward the Internet and finance. Similar to Reddit, users submit posts, which are then voted up or down.
Research your keywords. As with most things Internet marketing, keywords are critical. Lea Richards, owner of mail-order barbeque company Pigofthemonth, says that before submitting to social media sites, she takes some time to optimize the tags for whom she is targeting. “I do a quick Google search for my post and see what else is out there to get a better idea of what keywords I should be hitting on,” says Richards.
Add images whenever possible. Posts that have video, photos or infographics are always more likely to go viral in today’s visually oriented world.
How have you been using social bookmarking to drive traffic to your blog? We would love to hear your comments.
This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.
If you think sound bites are just for movie stars, politicians and the pundits on TV, think again. In today’s get-to-the-point-centric world, your small business spin has power.
I was reminded of the importance of this during a coaching session I had last week with a group of women entrepreneurs.
As each business owner was going around the table telling us what their companies did, I noticed that some of the stories just went “clunk” — in a good way. I got an instant idea of the business these people were in and how it might help me or someone else. Others, however, were more vague and rambling in their descriptions — or just plain boring and run of the mill.
Being able to distill who you are and what your business offers down to a single scintillating sentence (or two) — in other words, a sound bite — has practical applications, not just at a cocktail party but in the online universe.
For more enlightenment on this topic, I interviewed sound bite expert and media coach Susan Harrow. “The problem that most small businesses have isn’t that they don’t have enough to say about what they do,” says Harrow. “It’s that they have too much to say.”
Harrow says that well-crafted small business sound bites are nothing like normal conversation and are in fact a whole different kind of speaking process. She likens them to the way language is used in novels and film.
“What makes great dialogue in movies and books is that it’s a highly condensed version of conversation that resonates. In just a few words, the language has more meaning than simply what is being said. There are layers beneath that show a bigger story,” says Harrow.
Harrow suggests creating small business sound bites that connect with your ideal audience by crafting a variety that cover the following areas:
Story: Kristen Scheurlein left a multi-million-dollar business as a graphic designer to become what she calls The Blanket Lady.
“I didn’t want to become an entrepreneur, but it’s in my blood. My grandfather was a shoemaker. In the Depression, he saw that many people couldn’t afford shoes. He traded chickens for shoes to make sure that none of the children in the village went shoeless. I didn’t realize that I was following in his footsteps when I began my business, which will become a complete non-profit in five years, but I am. We give away blankets to churches, charities, homeless. In essence, I’m trading chickens for shoes.”
Statistic: In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors.
Fact: “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes; I had one thousand and sixty.” Imelda Marcos
Vignette: Laura Bell Bundy, who is starring in the musical “Legally Blonde,” said in an interview, “There’s some really hilarious things that happen on stage with the cast. I lost my shoe once in the middle of a number. It flew out into the audience, and I kicked the other one off and ended the show in bare feet. I love when things like that happen. I love when things go wrong.”
Anecdote: “When a man says ‘no,’ it is the end of a conversation. When a woman says ‘no,’ it is the beginning of a negotiation.” Gavin De Becker
Analogy: Speaking in sound bite is like taking the novel “War and Peace” and turning it into haiku poetry.
Aphorism: “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” Warren Buffett
Acronym: F.A.S.T. equals Fix American Schools Today
The trick is to pepper these into the conversations you have with potential clients, media or anyone else you want to have a powerful experience of your business. This can happen at meetings, conferences, interviews, lunches, online and just about anywhere you talk about what you do.
“I have one client who was standing in line waiting to buy an iPad 2 when she spoke about her small business in sound bites to the person in front of her in line,” says Harrow. “As a result, she sold over 200 books and closed a speaking engagement.”
What is your small business sound bite? We would love to hear your comments.
This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.
Every morning, I walk across the street from my townhouse and take a stroll by the San Francisco Bay. The paved pathway I amble down is a flurry of bike riders, power walkers, and locals taking their dogs out for a morning stretch.
Earlier this week, I came across a springy King Charles spaniel happily chewing on a tennis ball, when he suddenly became aware of his owner filling up his water bowl at the drinking fountain.
The dog — who had previously been in a state of single focus bliss — began to nervously shift his attention from the ball, to the bowl and back again. Then a bicycle blew by and the confused canine whipped around to take a look. Not sure which of these things was the most deserving of his attention, clearly stressed, and unable to make a choice, his head went from bike, to bowl, to ball and back again, over and over.
I know just how that dog feels.
And so does any small business owner or entrepreneur, who is confronted with crafting a modern marketing strategy out of the vast array of choices presented by today’s social media landscape.
“I think small businesses are confused about what they should do and how they should do it,” says Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot. “They stick their toe in the water by tweeting once a week or creating a page on Facebook, but that really doesn’t work. What they need to do is jump in, ask questions, learn and fully engage.”
In fact, the recent 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report , which surveyed 3,342 marketers, found that 48 percent of small business owners, who did engage, saw improved sales as a direct result of their social media efforts.
Mike Schultz, author of Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation, says that there are benefits to marketing online but cautions that there are two social media paths a small business can pursue.
“Some people focus on the path of acquiring as many followers as they can,” says Schultz. “But the other path, which is much less sexy, but leads to more money, is to focus on finding people that you could not easily find in the past and reaching out to them in the right way.”
Just what is that right way? While social media mastery has many layers, the experts all agree that following five core steps is a good start to bringing social media sanity to your small business.
1. Generate an abundance of high-quality content. Be it blog posts, podcasts, ebooks, web pages, videos or webinars. The more substantial, unique and useful your content is, the more your potential customers will find you. Stuck on what kind of content to create? Ask yourself: What questions are my clients always asking me? Then write your answers to those.
2. Optimize that content for social media. Research the keywords your potential clients would use to find you and integrate those into your blog posts, page titles, blog headings, website text and any other content on your site. Google Keyword Tool provides easy research.
3. Integrate your website/blog with your social media. Publish your posts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. In addition, post links on your social media back to your website offering free downloadable content. Blog buttons such as LinkedIn Share and TweetMeme help integrate social media.
4. Use alerts to monitor the conversation. Google Alerts notifies you when your business appears online but also helps you find journalists and bloggers in your field. Schultz suggests using Twitter Alerts as well. “One company I know of got a $250,000 sale by following up with a potential client who tweeted a general industry question,” he says.
5. Measure social media marketing. Google Analytics can give you instant access to where your Web traffic is coming from, how long people are staying on your site, which pages are the most popular and whether your overall website visits are going up or down.
In an era where participating in social media has gone from being nice to necessary, it’s critical to outline an overall plan for integrating social media into your marketing mix. Just remember to keep your eye on the tennis ball.
Take our quick poll: What is your biggest social media pain?
What are your greatest social media challenges? We would love to hear your comments and questions.
This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.