Facebook and MySpace for Small Business

As we continue our look at web 2.0 and how it can help your small business, today we’ll take a look at Facebook and MySpace.  We’re going to focus on Facebook with the understanding that just about anything you can say about Facebook applies to MySpace as well.  A logical question would be, "What’s the difference?"

Here’s a quote from the introduction to the book, Facebook, The Missing Manual by E.A. Vander Veer.

"If you’re thinking that Facebook sounds a lot like MySpace, you’re right.  The difference?  In a word, positioning.  Facebook does pretty much the same stuff as MySpace, but in a cleaner, more controlled, more professional way. So while MySpace’s blinking, flashing, online teen haven boasts nearly twice as many members as Facebook, Facebook’s membership is rapidly catching up.  And over half of all new Facebook members count themselves among the 25-and-older crowd, so it’s not just for college kids anymore."

When the book was published earlier this year, Facebook boasted more than 50 million members.  That’s 50 million people, more than half of whom fall into a desirable demographic.  Obviously they’re all computer-savvy and above average in education and income.  It’s a very desirable group.  There are a number of good books on the market that cover all the ins and outs of Facebook and MySpace so this post will just hit the highlights.

You may be thinking that that’s all well and good, but what are you going to do with all those people.  A huge majority of them are never going to be your customers.  Well, on Wednesday we introduced you to Heather Gorringe and Wiggly Wigglers.  We told you how she parlayed social media, especially Facebook into a very successful business.  Since that post, I’ve been corresponding with a gentleman who’s a Wiggly customer because of Facebook.  David lives in Newcastle, nearly 300 miles away from Heather’s retail location in Blakemere.

There are four basic ways you can use Facebook (and MySpace) to build your personal brand and your business brand.  One is to set up a personal Facebook profile.  The profile is all about you.  You can post information about yourself including photos.  This is where you build up your personal resume as an expert in your field. 

The personal profile is your Facebook "home page".  From your profile page you can start looking for people with similar interests and begin to build a network.  For example when I search for "Saint Louis" and "sewing" I get 147 names.  That’s 147 potential Facebook "friends" to be in my network.  You invite those people to be friends and most of them will probably respond positively because the whole purpose of Facebook is to make friends.

If you’re posting interesting stuff on your Facebook page, your new friends are going to start forwarding it to their friends and soon those friends-of-friends will find you too.  You also have the option of sending friend requests to your friends’ friends.  Having a mutual friend is a strong motivation for people to accept your invitation.

A second way to connect through Facebook is through groups.  Any member can start a group.  Groups are formed around an area of interest.  There are more than 500 Facebook groups that involve the term "sewing". Heather credits much of her success to her Facebook group.

It’s important to remember that your profile page and any groups you belong to are not places to sell.  They’re places to "sell" yourself.  The product and service sales will follow naturally if you do your personal profile well.

The other two ways to use Facebook for your business are more directly related to sales.  The first is a business "page".  Every business can have a Facebook page, whether you’re Coca Cola or a one person shop.  A "page" is the business equivalent of a personal profile.  The difference is that others become your "friend" on your profile page, they become "fans" of your business page.  The great thing about pages, besides the fact that they’re free, is that when someone becomes a fan of a business page, that information shows up on their persona profile.  If I see my friends are all fans of a particular business, there’s a good chance I’ll become a fan as well.

Finally, you can advertise on Facebook.  But it’s advertising with a difference.  There’s a lot of information on a person’s profile, including physical location, age, gender,education and interests.  How cool would it be if you could direct your message to women between the ages of 25 and 35 living in Springfield, MO.  (There are 4,060 of them on Facebook.)  You can direct your ad to just that group which is a very effective way to conserve your ad dollars.  If you want to further confine your efforts to married women, then Facebook will show your ad to 2,040 people.  Note that the head count at the bottom right of the screen changes as you change your search.  Once you finish defining your target audience, Facebook automatically calculates the cost of your ad.

Facebook_ad_2

Facebook and MySpace both offer a lot of ways for you to build your business at little or no cost. They’re free to join and anything you do to your profile can be changed at any time.  A word of caution:  It’s easy to get carried away with what you include in your personal profile.  I’d say that if there’s anything you wouldn’t want your mom (or your kids) to see, don’t post it.  These things have a way of coming back to haunt you.  But be yourself.  If you’re basically a fun person, let that come through in your profile.  If you’re totally serious, that’s ok too.  Just be you and people who have similar interests, hopefully people who can become your customers, will gravitate to you online the same way they do in real life.

On Tuesday we’ll take a look at email newsletters.  In the mean time have a great Labor Day weekend!

Building Your Credibility on the Other Guy’s Dime

Yesterday we left you with the promise that today we’d show you how to build your credibility without having your own blog or podcast.  So, what’s this magical secret?  It called "commenting".  Nearly every blog and podcast has a place for you to leave comments.  If you get into the habit of leaving valuable comments where your prospects and customers are likely to see them, you’ll gain a reputation for being a source of good information without the work and expense, minimal as they may be, of having your own blog or podcast.

The great thing about this arrangement is that most bloggers and podcasters (including yours truly) love comments.  Comments let us know that someone’s listening and the move the conversation along.  Your thoughts are valuable to bloggers and to readers.  And you’re welcome to include your contact information along with your comment.

So, where do you post your words of wisdom?  For blogs, you can go to an online feed reader, like Bloglines, and search for relevant terms.  Google Reader is another popular choice.   You’re likely to find lots of possibilities for your particular industry and physical location so your next step is to subscribe to a few blogs and follow them daily.  It won’t take long to find out if you’ve made the right choice.  If nothing strikes your fancy, you can go back, unsubscribe from your first round of choices, and try some others.

If you see that a blog really is serving the community you want to reach, it’s time to join the conversation.  Stay away from comments like "Nice post!  I couldn’t agree more."  They don’t add anything to the conversation and while they might massage the ego of the blogger, they do nothing to build your reputation.  What readers are looking for is substance.

What about podcasts?  The search engines are different but the procedure is the same.  Try sites like Podcast Alley and blubrry, or use the search facility in iTunes.  Choose a few things that sound interesting and subscribe.  When you find a good match, start commenting.  Most podcasts will give you a number of choices when it comes to commenting.  Podcasts almost always have show notes pages, which is a page describing the content of each episode.  The show notes will also list the options for commenting.

There’s probably a link that says "comment" just like there is on a blog.  That’s where you leave written comments.  If you want to try your hand at audio comments, most podcasts will have a link for that too.  They’ll either have a "comment line" which is a toll-free telephone number, or they may invite you to record a comment and send it via email.  Whatever method you choose, I promise you the podcaster will be happy to hear from you.

When you have a blog or podcast of your own, it may take some time to build traffic.  By commenting on other posts, you take advantage of their existing followers.  It’s a very good way to build up a community of your own, and to meet some interesting people.  Just this week, MYOB has had visitors from eleven foreign countries.  I’m sure that most of those have come because of comments I’ve made on other blogs.

Bottom line is that you’re going to attract more customers by becoming recognized as an industry expert.  You’re also going to become more of an industry expert by following what others are saying.  You’re going to make connections with other interesting people in your industry. It’s a win/win/win.

PS, If you want to practice commenting, just click on the link below and fire away. 

Tomorrow, Facebook and MySpace.

Non-ticket Tickets

Yesterday we received our “travel documents” for our upcoming trip to Ireland.  I understand the economies and efficiencies that the airlines achieve by eliminating paper tickets, but there’s just something kind of unsatisfying about spending thousands of dollars for a trip and getting a couple of pieces of paper in an envelope.

It’s not so bad when you’re traveling on business, especially on someone else’s dime.  But for expensive personal travel, I’d really like something to hold in my hand.

A Small Business Owner Who Knows How to Use Social Media

I thought today we’d take a look at someone who really knows how to use this "social media" stuff to build her business.  I chose this example for three reasons.  (1.)  She really knows how to make web 2.0 work to her advantage, (2.)  I’m almost sure that she’s not your competitor, and (3.) she makes me laugh.   Of course, since she runs a business that’s probably very different from yours, it may take a bit of imagination for you to transpose her techniques to your business.

Let me introduce you to Heather Gorringe, owner of Wiggly Wigglers.  No, it’s not a typo.  That’s really the name of her business.  See, among other things, Heather sells worms!  Worms aren’t the main business.  Wiggly Wigglers is a seller of all things relating to gardening and growing things.  Worms are just part of the mix.  The business is located in rural Blakemere, a tiny village in Herefordshire, United Kingdom.  Prior to Wiggly Wigglers, Herefordshire’s claim to fame was Hereford cattle.

By the use of her a well-designed web site, blogging, podcasting, and video, Heather and her husband "Farmer Phil" have grown an in-home business into an operation with customers all over the world.  Their FaceBook group (Wiggly Wigglers) has more than 800 members.  A recent fire in one of their buildings prompted emails and comments from all over the world.

That’s all well and good if your business sells over the web, but what good do hundreds of on-line friends do a business that operates a retail store?  Here’s the thing.  I live in St. Louis, MO, about 4,000 miles from Blakemere and I know absolutely nothing about gardening.  If you were to ask me for a source of gardening information, I’d send you to Wiggly Wigglers.  Imagine the referrals they must get from their local area.

It’s all about credibility, about establishing yourself as an expert in your field, and about building up your (and your store’s) reputation.  If you create an informative and entertaining presence on the web, your customers and prospects are going to find it.  Any impressions that you make outside your trading area may not bring you an immediate return, but they will pay dividends over the long run.  The world is getting smaller.  People move from one town to another.  People in your market have contacts all over the world.  You never know who may buy from you or give you a referral.

Be sure you include keywords in your web site, blog, or podcast related not just to your industry, but also to your local area.  People are looking for retailers by searching the web.  Your frequently updated web site with your town or city in the meta tags will come up high in the results and you have a good chance at getting the business.

Traditional reporters often get leads from the web.  Many of them will get a story idea and immediately do a Google search for the topic.   If your business comes up on the first page as a result of the frequent updates you make to your blog and/or podcast, you’re going to be the first one he or she calls.  That’s instant credibility in your own market.  You may even get calls from out-of-town journalists.  For example, Wiggly Wigglers has been written up in a San Francisco newspaper.  How great would it be to have a regional or even national publication interview you?  Sending reprints to your customers via email or even regular mail will build your reputation even more.

We’re living in an exciting time.  For a small investment of time and money you can build a reputation for yourself as an expert in any field.  The Internet is a great equalizer.  A single person can make a big impact, as big as or bigger than much larger competitors, just by consistently posting useful information, especially in an entertaining way.  There may be people more knowledgeable than Heather Gorringe in the field of gardening, but she has found a way to combine here outgoing personality, her sense of humor, and her knowledge of her industry to create a world-wide brand for Wiggly Wigglers.

There is absolutely no reason why you can’t do the same.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how you can build your reputation without having your own blog or podcast.

[Bulletin:  Since we posted twice today, this post is NUMBER 600 for MYOB.  Thanks to all of you for your patience and your support!  mb]

Durable Goods Sales are……… Durable

According to Yahoo! News, orders for big ticket items were up in July for the second month in a row.  Obviously that’s good news since most of us are in the business of selling durable goods.  The Commerce Department announced today that orders were up 1.3% in July which was many times higher than their prediction of a 0.1% increase and was equal to the 1.3% bump in June.

Check out the Yahoo! article for a further breakdown.

Building Your Small Business Brand with Blogs and Podcasts

Let’s start with a basic fact of Internet life.  One thing search engines look for is frequently updated content.  The fastest way to update your web site’s content is to host a blog or podcast.

Take this blog as an example.  You’re reading post number 598 of MYOB.  On Thursday we’ll publish number 600.  Since the URL for the blog is http://www.tacony.com/myob, Google and other search engines see our corporate web site as one that’s updated regularly, giving us a better ranking. 

More important is the fact that we hopefully provide you, our readers, with some valuable free content, causing you to have warm, fuzzy feelings for Tacony Corporation.  That’s the point.  We want you to see us as a valued partner in your business, just like you’re a valued partner in our business.  MYOB is just one step in that process.  It’s called “brand building”.

If we sent you an email add every day, you’d soon start hitting the “delete” button every time you saw our name in the “from” box.  But blogs are different.  First, unless you sign up for the email feed, blogs aren’t email.  Second, a good blog doesn’t sell products.  There are exceptions and I’ll get to them in a little bit.  But, by and large, a blog post provides useful information to its audience.  It’s like getting a valuable free gift with no strings attached. 

You may be thinking that you don’t have the resources to host a blog.  You’re too busy.  You don’t have writing talent.  You’re not sure you could keep it up week after week.  These aren’t reasons, they’re excuses.  You know how to overcome “I have to ask my husband.”  I have an answer for “I’m too busy”, etc.

First of all, I’m going to guess that as a successful retailer, you take the time to find out what’s happening in your industry.  Since you read Mine Your Own Business, I also going to guess that you go to the Internet to get at least some of your information.  If something’s interesting to you, it’s probably interesting to your customers. 

All you have to do to put a blog post together is to pass information along to your customers.  That’s it!  You don’t have to write the great American novel.  Here’s a perfectly adequate post for a sewing machine dealer.

 

Baby Lock Introduces New Top-of-the-Line Machines.

Last week in St. Louis, Baby Lock USA introduced two new machines to dealers at Baby Lock Tech, one of the sewing industry’s premier events.  The Ellismo, Baby’s Lock’s new full-featured embroidery machine, offers features never seen before in the industry. 

The Jewel is the newest entry into Baby Lock’s Quilter’s Dream series.  It features an 18” throat, the longest of any household quilting machine.

Come see both machines, along with other new items from Baby Lock and other manufacturers at XYZ Sewing. 

That took me about a two minutes to write.  Obviously some posts will be more elaborate and take longer to put together.  But if you’re in the business of explaining your products and services to your customers, you have the ability to write a blog post.   And the wealth of information available online makes it easy to find subjects to write about.

You might say “I thought you said you don’t sell on a blog.”  I did and you don’t.  This sample post doesn’t sell anything except a visit to my store.  “Come see” isn’t a sales pitch.  It’s an invitation.  It’s a subtle difference but an important one.  Readers will be turned off by a blatant sales attempt.  But they’ll welcome useful information that might cause them to buy. 

The exception that I mentioned earlier would be a product review.  If you have a new item that you’re excited about, that you think will make your customers’ lives easier, there’s nothing wrong with writing about it.  Concluding the review with the suggestion that the customer come in and try it is fine.  Offering a special discount to blog readers is ok, too.  Just don’t overdo it.

MYOB is currently running a dealer survey on social media usage.  There’s plenty of time for you to take it if you haven’t already.  As of today the question “Do you have a blog?” has a 41% positive response.  So 4 out of 10 of our readers (so far) are blogging.  That’s a good response.  For the sixty percent of you who don’t blog, I would recommend it highly.  There are blogging tools like Blogger which are available at no charge.  You could have a blog up and running today. 

You’re reading this, so you’re a blog reader.  The same interest that brings you here will bring your customers to your blog.  A blog will provide information that makes your customers more knowledgeable and more likely to buy.  Your personality will come across in your writing and help you build your personal brand and the brand of your store.  When the time comes to buy something, they will feel like they know you, even considering you a friend.  Who do people buy from?  People they know, especially friends.

A word about podcasts.  So far our survey has found no one who podcasts.  If you’re not familiar, a podcast is basically a spoken blog.  Instead of a keyboard you use a microphone.  Podcasts can be downloaded into your iPod or other mp3 player and listened to at your leisure.  Personally, I like to listen to podcasts while I ride my bike.  One particular favorite of mine runs about an hour and another favorite runs 30 minutes.  Coincidentally I usually ride about an hour and a half so the combination is perfect, at least once a week. 

That’s another thing about podcasts.  Where I would suggest that you post to a blog at least 3 times each week, a podcast can be weekly, every other week, or even once per month.  They can run from as short as five minutes to as long as an hour.  Normally the longer the podcast, the less frequently it’s produced.  An exception is Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson’s For Immediate Release, a public relations show that runs an hour and is done twice a week.  Frankly I don’t know how they do it, especially since Shel’s in Concord, CA and Neville is in England.  If you think a podcast might be in your future, Shel and Neville literally wrote the book.  It’s called How to Do Everything With Podcasting

Good podcasting software, Audicity for example, is available to download free of charge.  A basic microphone and headphones can cost less than $100 and you’re ready to go.   

To wrap this up, whether you choose to exercise your creativity with the written word or by getting behind a microphone, you wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t have expertise in your industry. That expertise has value to your customers and potential customers.  By providing it in the form of a blog or podcast you generate free publicity, establish yourself as an authority in your field, build both your personal and store brands, and improve the search engine ranking of your web site.  Not a bad return for a very small investment.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at a retailer who’s been very successful in promoting her business using blogs and podcasts.

Episode 10

Welcome to Mining the Store, the podcast for small business owners who want to mine more gold from their businesses.  This is Episode 10.

There’s no “I” in podcast, so your comments are very important.  You can leave a comment here on the show notes page.  Or, you can email your comment to mike@miningthestore.com.  If you’d like to leave an audio comment, you can attach an mp3 file to your email.

Skype users can leave an audio comment at mike.buckley3.

My Twitter ID is michaelbuckley and you can also find me on Friendfeed.

Mining the Store is a member of the blubrry podcast network, http://www.blubrry.com.

This time on Mining the Store

1:30  Thanks to the Podcast Sisters for the shout out.
1:57  Podcamp Ireland and the Podcamp Ireland Podcast
2:44  Changes at FaceBook and Del.icio.us
5:13  Putting a name with the voice:  Bill Kennedy
7:10  Tacony Corporation and Baby Lock Tech  Hundreds of retailers descend on St. Louis to see the newest

in  sewing  products and to place  big orders.
10:26  The trip.  Your podcaster proves that people will spend money for the things they want.
10:42  The exchange rate.  The dollar’s getting stronger.
13:36  The Olympic brand.

Direct download: episode_10.mp3
Category: podcasts — posted at: 9:52 PM