Reporter Services Can Be Key To Media Coverage

Reporter Services Can Be Key To Media Coverage

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.

The Challenge of Hiring Linksters

The Challenge of Hiring Linksters

Picture this: An 85-year-old company founder startled by the scantily clad intern sitting on his desk texting her mom or an angry parent calling to ask why her son’s schedule was changed, impacting the family’s summer vacation.

Born after 1995 (age 17 and younger), Linksters, also known as “The Facebook Generation,” comprise 18 percent of the world’s population. Millions of Linksters and those on the cusp (ages 18-19) will be working in small businesses as office assistants, interns, busboys, lifeguards and camp counselors — and they are wildly different from the 20-something Generation Y employees who preceded them.

“This group is characterized by the fact that they are still living at home, and, unlike previous generations, they are typically best friends with their parents,” say multigenerational workplace experts Larry and Meagan Johnson. “They live and breathe technology, are more tolerant of alternative lifestyles than their predecessors and are very much involved in green causes and social activism. Bottom line, though, is that they are still very young and inexperienced.”

Larry and Meagan Johnson are a father-daughter team and authors of the new book “Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters — Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work” (AMACOM, 2010). They say smart small business owners need to learn about Linksters’ unique generational traits and how to keep these young employees engaged, happy and productive. Along these same lines, recent research from Robert Half International shows that nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of hiring managers polled said managing multigenerational work teams poses a challenge.

Here are 10 ways to get the most out of your Linkster employees:

1. Ride herd on them. They have short attention spans and lose interest if the work is boring. If there’s a way to incentivize task accomplishment, do it.

2. Provide them with job descriptions. Linksters need clear direction about what you expect. This includes basics, such as when you expect them to arrive, number of hours they are to work and duties of the job. They are used to being told what to do, in detail and explicitly.

3. Treat them like valued coworkers. Linksters are used to a steady diet of connection and communication from family and friends. If you have a company party, be sure to invite them. Same with meetings, where appropriate.

4. Lead by example. Linksters are still trying to figure out how to act and behave. They will look to older co-workers and managers to shape their workplace identity and demeanor.

5. Orient them to the obvious. Be specific about expectations that may seem apparent. For example, teenagers are used to having their parents cover for them. Make sure they know the consequences of showing up late, taking lunch breaks that are too long or texting on the job.

6. Welcome them with open arms. Let your people know the Linksters are joining your team, and ask everyone to welcome them. Pair Linksters with buddies — good role models with good work ethics. Call Linksters the night before their first day. Remind them of dress code, arrival time, items to bring, traffic, snacks and water, where to park, whom to contact once they arrive and quitting time.

7. Know what songs are on their iPods. Young people have a language that’s distinctly their own. Make an effort to get to know their culture.

8. Create micro-career paths. If you have a young person manning the cash register, give her other tasks that help her understand different aspects of the business from time to time. This keeps her challenged, engaged and feeling valued — and sets her up for more responsibility.

9. Re-examine your uniform policy. Part of being young is having a heightened interest in how you look. Are you asking your Linksters to wear embarrassing uniforms? Are they comfortable? Are they outdated? Try to remember what being a teen felt like.

10. Thank their parents. Linksters are young and may still live at home with parents. Invite their parents for a visit, call, express appreciation for raising a great kid and thank them for helping to get your young employee to work on time, well rested and prepared.

Have you hired any Linksters? How has that worked out? We would love to hear your comments.

Using QR Codes For Small Business Marketing

Using QR Codes For Small Business Marketing

While on vacation seven years ago, entrepreneur Rico Elmore couldn’t find a pair of sunglasses that would fit on his not-so-small noggin. Elmore’s hefty-head experience spawned an ah-ha moment, and today he is the proud proprietor of Fatheadz Eyewear, a company that makes oversized sunglasses and extra wide eyewear for folks with large heads.

Always looking for ways to innovate, Elmore has recently been using mobile marketing, and QR codes in particular, as part of his plan to engage customers.

QR codes (Quick Response Codes) are commonly aimed at mobile phone users. If you have a camera-equipped smartphone with a QR code reader, your phone can scan the image of a QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network or open a web page in your phone’s browser.

“In early 2011, I was flipping through an outdoor retailer trade publication when I saw a QR code in the magazine,” says Elmore. “I thought it was very cool and decided to look into how we might start using them in our marketing.”

Within 60 days, Fatheadz had integrated the use of QR codes into their campaign involving the ongoing sponsorship of race car drivers.

“For all of our sponsored drivers, we give them a ‘Hero’ card they can autograph and give out to their fans,” says Elmore. “We put a QR code on the back, and when the fan scans it on their mobile device, up pops our web page.”

Once on the website, fans can see information about their favorite race car driver, including which sunglasses they wear — and buy them. Elmore says the QR code campaign has increased web traffic by a whopping 10 percent.

What’s next? Elmore says he plans on expanding the use of QR codes to prospective retailers by printing them on business cards and other marketing collateral and then linking them to product videos on his site.

Dan Hollings, an expert on mobile marketing, says that video is one of the most effective uses of QR codes.

“The key is to create a short video (under three minutes) about your product or service or some useful information relating to your product or service,” says Hollings. “Then post the video on your website, YouTube and Facebook and link a QR code to it that brings the visitor to the video. It’s as simple as that.”

Even though QR codes are relatively simple to set up and use, many small businesses don’t know where to begin. To start, check out Qr.net and createandtrack.com, just two of the hundreds of sites that offer QR code creation.

Once you’ve created a code, Hollings says you can then easily link it to a video, your website or a podcast. Once you know where you want to send your potential clients, the next step is to promote it. Publish your QR code on your business cards, flyers, DVDs, brochures, mailers, signage or any other material you give to potential clients. Hollings says he’s even seen them placed on complementary coffee mugs at conferences.

Still feeling a bit shy about bringing QR codes into your marketing mix? Get your feet wet by using one yourself. Now that you know what to look for, you’ll see them everywhere. So download a QR reader on your smartphone and scan away. Who knows, you might just end up with a pair of your favorite racecar driver’s sunglasses.

Has your small business been doing anything with QR Codes or other forms of mobile marketing? We would love to hear your comments.

How to Promote Your Small Business Blog

How to Promote Your Small Business Blog

“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.

That’s where social bookmarking sites like Reddit, Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon come in. Used properly, they have the power to bring eyeballs to your well-written prose.

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:

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Delicious
ShareThis

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.

How to Craft a Small Business Sound Bite

How to Craft a Small Business Sound Bite

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.

Bring Social Media Sanity To Your Small Business

Bring Social Media Sanity To Your Small Business

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.

Use An eBook To Build Your Brand

Use An eBook To Build Your Brand

Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old current indie queen of eBooks, was rejected by so many New York publishing houses that she decided to go the entrepreneurial route and put out an eBook instead. To date, she’s sold more than 500,000 books and made more than $1 million dollars. The movie rights to her popular “Trylle Trilogy” series have been acquired and, a few weeks ago, she closed a US$2 million deal for her four-book “Watersong” series with (yes, you guessed it) St. Martin’s Press — a traditional publishing house.

While Hocking’s paranormal romance novels are probably not what the typical entrepreneur is looking to publish, the best-practice business point is that eBooks are now a viable way of building your brand and getting word out about your company and expertise.

Here are the basics: An eBook (electronic book) is an electronic document that can contain text, images, audio and video. They can be viewed on a personal computer, smart phone, PDA and eBook reader, such as a Kindle, and are sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and dozens of other outlets.

Depending on the length and content of the eBook, they sell from between 99 cents and $99. But the current rage is pricing eBooks at the lower end of the spectrum for around $2.99, or even giving them away for free as a promotion.

The five best reasons why you should be writing an eBook, beyond the immediate financial return of book sales, include:

• Increases name recognition for your company and personal brand, as well as drives traffic to your Web site via links from book excerpts, free samples, reviews, newsletter distribution and blog mentions.

• Introduces you to potential customers looking for what you offer via press releases about the book, an Amazon listing and book reviews from bloggers.

• Provides a perfect free, downloadable giveaway on your blog to entice visitors to sign up and give you their contact information.

• Makes a great calling card to send before you meet with a potential client to show your knowledge, expertise and point of view.

• Forces you to develop content you can then repurpose for marketing collateral and turn into podcasts and Webcasts.

Oddly enough, the easiest part of eBook publishing is getting the finished product up and running for distribution. Many can be uploaded with just a click of a few buttons. But where most entrepreneurs face a challenge is in finding the time, or having the writing chops, to craft the eBook in the first place. Even if that’s the case, it’s no excuse, since there are scads of eBook-savvy small businesses whose sole purpose is to ghost write, edit, design and publish your eBook.

Still not convinced? Consider this: According to the Association of American Publishers, Americans spent US$440 million dollars on eBooks in the first quarter of 2011, and the Book Industry Study Group found that one in four Americans reads eBooks — and that’s a whole lota brand to be built.

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

6 Ways To Keep Your Computer Healthy

6 Ways To Keep Your Computer Healthy

I’ve experienced a week that can only be described as computer hell. A Malware invasion that crashed my WordPress site – yup. An Email program snafu that banished over 200 of my messages to never, never land – you bet. A freaky bug that wouldn’t let me delete an errant email – of course. Top this all off with the fact that my last back up was over a week ago (I know, I know) and you have a recipe for technology turmoil. It seems like everyone from small business owners to multinational moguls to working moms, spend as much time fixing issues on their computer as they do working on them.

“Malware, viruses, identity theft and spyware account for about 80% of all computer issues resulting in downtime,” reveals IT expert Chip Reaves. “It is estimated that the lost-productivity cost due to these alone is around $50 billion, and the associated IT costs of dealing with it has skyrocketed from $20 billion to $198 billion in the last five years.”

Depending on the degree to which you rely on your computer, an interruption of service can be a mere inconvenience, or can add up to thousands of dollars in lost downtime or data.

Although the mere thought of trying to ‘fix’ a computer can cause most of us to break out in a cold sweat, Reaves, the National Director of Computer Troubleshooters, says there are some simple tips everyone can use to keep their computers in tip-top shape.

1. Old Hardware. Studies have shown that the likelihood of physical problems with computer equipment goes up significantly after 24 to 36 months,” says Reaves. Consider replacing computer systems every three years – considering how inexpensive computers have become, one major repair bill could easily cost more than purchasing an entire new system.

2. Power Protection. Surges and power drops can cause data loss and are always damaging to sensitive components, reducing their lifespan. Most people do use surge protectors, but what many don’t realize is that surge protection wears off over time. For the best protection make sure that the surge protectors for all your computer equipment are replaced every 2 to 3 years.

3. Training. Having to spend money training your staff might sound like a waste, but most employees understand less than 20% of the software packages they use. The gain in productivity far outweighs the training costs.

4. Firewall and Security. The internet is full of hackers who regularly try to access computers for nefarious purposes. If they get in (either directly, or with the help of exploits from malware or viruses) the list of problems they can cause is pretty big; including stealing files or customer records, and deleting important data. It’s important to be sure that all computers in your organization are updated with the latest security patches from Microsoft or Apple, and that firewalls are installed and maintained properly.

5. Backup Data. It sounds so obvious but most companies fail to keep 100% of their important data backed up 100% of the time – there are often gaps in what’s being backed up which are only discovered when it’s too late. The consequences of lost data can put a company out of business on the spot, and data retrieval is frighteningly expensive.

6. Spam, Viruses and Spyware.
80% of all Computer Troubleshooters’ service calls worldwide are from people with problems directly linked to these issues. You should consider good virus protection, spam filters and anti-spyware programs as mandatory if you want a trouble-free computer.

With a small amount of common sense and a minimum weekly maintenance (much of which you can do yourself), you can look forward to more trouble-free workdays.

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.