Survey Says!

We recently conducted a survey on our readers’ use of social media tools.  I know I promised you the results in October, but I’m a firm believer in "under promise, over deliver" so here they are slightly early.  Be aware that the results are highly unscientific but they’re interesting anyway.

First, we asked for your demographic "generation".  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Generation Y (Born from 1981 to the present)   9%
  • Generation X (Born between 1965 and 1980)    26%
  • Baby Boomers (Born between 1946 and 1964)   59%
  • Radio Generation (Born before 1946)                6%

We asked about reading blogs and listening to podcasts. Across all the groups, 85% of you read blogs and 47% of you listen to podcasts.  Somewhat surprisingly, the three younger groups read blogs at about the same rate, all 85% or more.  When it comes to podcasts, the split between generations is more like you would expect. Where gen X and Y read blogs and listen to podcasts at very similar percentages, Xs and Ys are much more likely to listen to podcasts.  Here’s what it looks like.

Blog__podcast_usage

This was a bit of a surprise.  Slightly more than one out of four of you have a blog (26.4%).  But, in our survey at least, half of the blogs are written by boomers and half are written by gen xers.  But remember that twice as many responders fall into the boomer category.  So, percentage-wise, gen x is blogging at about twice the rate of boomers.  The big surprise is that none of our gen y’s blog.

When it comes to podcasting, it seems like retailers are mic shy.  Not a podcast in the bunch. 

Because of the small numbers, I’ve put Facebook, My Space, and LinkedIn together.  To make a long story short, most of you don’t use any of them.  MySpace has a slight edge with gen X, but that’s not surprising.  The lack of interest in Facebook and LinkedIn is a little puzzling, though, especially among Xs and Ys.

The so-called "mini blog" sites, twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce are gaining in popularity, but evidently not among retailers. (They’re called "mini blogs" because each post is limited to just 140 characters). The numbers of survey responders using these three services were almost too small to measure.

Then we come to online forums.  This is where it gets interesting.  You guys (and gals) seem to love online forums.  Across the board, 94% of you participate in forums.  Even though we specifically invited members of the VacHeads forum to participate in the survey, that’s still a big number.  Of course, a forum is basically a combination blog, mini-blog, and networking site.  All it lacks is the audio of a podcast, and some forums even have that.  So, while it may seem that we’re behind the curve when it comes to social media, that’s not really true.

Of course, the downside of most forums is that they’re walled gardens.  You can’t get in without an invitation.  While we can communicate very nicely with our peers, we’re invisible to our customers.  That’s where the other services come in.  Consumers are reading blogs and listening to podcasts.  Some are even creating their own.  They’re on the social networks, forming networks of like-minded people, and they’re following one another on sites like twitter.

There are two ways we can reach them.  We can run expensive traditional advertising in the hope that our target audience will get off the Internet long enough to read the newspaper or listen to the radio, something that becomes less likely every day.  Or, we can be where they are, online, in the communities where they’re talking about one another, often talking about us. 

None of these tools are hard to use.  Many are free.  None are expensive.  There’s a small learning curve, but if you’re smart enough to run a business, your definitely smart enough to write a blog, or set up a Facebook page.  It takes some time, but not that much.  Here’s at MYOB, we’ll continue to keep you up to date on the tools.  What you do with them is up to you.

Using Technology to Make Your Life Easier

Technology changes so fast these days that you have to run like crazy just to keep up.  It seems like hardly a day goes buy that the "gurus" are aren’t touting the newest and best.  If you follow technology at all, you wake up every morning with an inbox full of messages about the latest tools.  The cycle usually runs like this.  Today you get a ton of messages announcing that Microsoft, or Google, or some new company has come out with a new service or piece of software that you absolutely have to have.

Tomorrow you get a flood of messages telling you what’s wrong with the same new gadget.  It’s buggy.  It crashes all the time.  It’s likely to make your computer explode.

Then things get pretty quiet for a few days until next week when we start all over again with something even newer to replace last week’s hot item.

Here’s the thing.  Computers and other high tech tools are exactly that–tools.  They should improve your life, either at home or at work. If all the new bells and whistles don’t do that, then why waste your time and money?  Combining an iPod with a cell phone to create the iPhone was a great idea, but it’s not for everyone.  If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.  If all you want is a device to stay in touch when you’re on the go, isn’t a simple cell phone with a reliable signal all you really need?  The more services and the more buttons you add to the phone, the more difficult it is to just make a call.

Personally, I use the heck out of Facebook and twitter, but I realize that they’re not for everyone.  If you like that kind of social network, then which one(s) do you choose?  Jaiku and Pownce are similar to twitter and MySpace is just one alternative to Facebook, although it is the most popular.  Then there’s Friendfeed which falls somewhere in between.

This morning I wanted to send a message to a friend.  I know that she’s on Facebook, Friendfeed, twitter, Jaiku, and has her own web site.  Where do I post my message?  I thought this stuff was supposed to make life simpler, not more complicated.

I suppose that over time the marketplace will make the decisions for us.  Remember VHS vs. Betamax?  Even the powerful Sony Corp. wasn’t able to force it’s system on consumers who prefered the VHS format.  It’s not unreasonable to think that a similar shakeup is coming with social media.  Meanwhile, we have to take the claims for the latest toys with a grain of salt.  Newer doesn’t always equal better.  Microsoft Vista anybody?

I’m writing this post sitting outside at a local coffee shop, St. Louis Bread Company.  (Outside of the St. Louis market they’re called Panera Bread Company.) The network at the office has been down all morning making it hard to get anything done.  But through the magic of WiFi, I’m able to move MYOB and the rest of what I do to a remote location and actually get more done than if I had stayed at my desk.  That’s what got me to thinking about tools that make life easier.  There’s nothing more exciting here than a laptop with a wireless connection and a business that offers free access to the web.  What’s in it for them?  When I get done with this post, I’ll stay for lunch.

With some of the newer, sexier tools around, what I’m doing isn’t all that unique or exciting.  There must be a dozen other folks around here working away on their notebooks.  But it gets the job done, and that’s really all that counts.

More on St. James and the Tour of Missouri

08_tour_start
Just to follow up on last Friday’s post, the Tour of Missouri finished up yesterday here in St. Louis.  The overall winner was Christian Vande Velde from Chicago.  There were a number of other winners who appeared on the podium but there was one winner who wasn’t able to be there.

The City of St. James won the award for the best host city, beating out St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and even Branson, a town known for its hospitality to visitors.  Once again our friends in St. James have proven that their work ethic and dedication to detail is second to none.

Congratulations, St. James, for a job well done.

One Reason Why Tacony Corporation Makes the World’s Best Vacuums

As you know, Tacony Corporation makes the best vacuum cleaners in the world right here in the Missouri Ozarks in St. James.  What you may not know is that stage 5 of the Tour of Missouri begins today in St. James. The Tour of Missouri is like the Tour de France, only with lots of trees instead of castles.  And, it’s quite a bit shorter. The riders will travel 100 hilly miles to Jefferson City, the state’s capital, most likely in a driving rain.  (Never depend on Missouri weather.)

What’s bicycle racing have to do with making vacuums?  Nothing really.  But the city of St. James, like all host cities, has put together a promotional video.  It’s a nice presentation that gives you a feel for the area and I thought you might like to see it.  Just click on the picture below.  [Note: I have made a minor adjustment to the city’s logo.  I hope they don’t mind.]  I think you’ll agree that it would be hard to live in a place like St. James and not have the traditional American, small town work ethic.  Our people work hard and when they’re done, they have a great place to spend their free time. 

I might point out that His Honor the Mayor doesn’t mention Tacony, one of the region’s largest employers, but St. James Winery is right across the highway from us.  If you’re ever in the neighborhood, it’s a great place to visit. 

St_james_logo2

Never Forget

Sept_11

The New York Times on Social Media for Business

Inc.com reports on a story from last Sunday’s New York Times on the subject of social media for business.  [They must be reading our blog.]  Normally I’d go right to the source and give you a link to the original story, but the Inc.com treatment is much shorter and it contains the Times link, if you’re interested.

I’m also linking to the Inc.com story because there are a couple of good reader comments.  Businesses are using web 2.0, some with great success.  For example, Jason M. Blumer, CPA reports that he’s gotten a new client through twitter and that the "younger generation" (Jason’s 37, poor old guy) has no problem doing business with companies they connect with over the web.

Happy Birthday, Ken Tacony

Sign

Question: How do you surprise a CEO who’s as involved in the everyday operation of the company as Ken Tacony?

Answer:  It ain’t easy.

But this morning the associates at the Tacony Corporation Corporate Centre in Fenton pulled it off.  Expecting to conduct an associate meeting in the showroom, Ken was greeted by dozens of us dressed in white tee shirts with the inscription "We Heart Ken".  Judging by his expression, he really was surprised.

Crowd_standing
Ken_surprised

Company president Bill Hinderer spoke for the group praising Ken for his dedication to the industries we serve, our customers, and our associates.  He cited the company mission statement which you see at the left, especially the part that says we "Strive to build long-lasting relationships that are based on trust and feel like family."

To commemorate the occasion, Ken was presented with a picture frame which will hang in our board room surrounding a portrait of Ken.  It will hang beside the portrait of his father, Nick Tacony, who founded the company in 1946.  Associates are also being encouraged to make contributions to the American Heart Association which will be presented in Ken’s name.

Kens_gift
Kens_cake

Chris Brogan on Personal Branding

Continuing our discussion on how to build your business using the Internet, I want to point you to a free ebook by Chris Brogan called "Personal Branding for the Business Professional."  I thought it would be a good idea to mention it today because there are so many parallels between "personal branding" and "small business branding."  In fact, I would suggest that they’re one and the same. 

Face it, in the eyes of your customers, you ARE your business.  If you’re a great guy (or gal), a straight-shooter, a good family person, a pillar of the community, chances are pretty good that your business reflect those traits.  If you’re a jerk, then your business probably isn’t all that customer friendly.  Since I know that all of our readers fall into the first category, let’s go with that.

You’re a great person and you run a great business.  How do you get the word out?  We’ve been discussing that very topic for the last few days and hopefully you’ve gotten some good ideas.  But Chris offers some different thoughts on the subject and even presents a few web tools that I wasn’t familiar with.   

One thing that Chris goes into that deserves some attention is self esteem.  If you’re going to build a personal brand, you’re going to have to talk about yourself. Hopefully you’re not an ego-maniac, but it’s just as bad to hide your light under a bushel basket.  I found the ebook as a result of Chris’ own post on twitter.  Most of us are very good at seeing our own faults but not so good at recognizing our strengths.  Brogan recommends a book that helped him and there are many other good ones on the topic.  Nobody likes a self-centered blow hard, but you need self-confidence to build your brand.

A complement to self-esteem is passion.  People will naturally gravitate to you if you have a passion for helping others.  Of course that means having a passion for the business that you’re in.  Not only will passion make you better at what you do, it will also draw people to you like a moth to a flame.

I hate the term "guru" and as rapidly as the social media changes, it’s hard to call someone an "expert".  But Chris Brogan is one of those people whose opinion is highly valued by others in the world of social media.  This free ebook is well worth your time.  Of course, following his own advice, offering this valuable content for free is a way for Chris to build his own brand and generate some positive word-of-mouth at the same time. 

How can you use your own expertise to offer valuable content to potential customers and build your  brand?

Mining the Store Episode 11

Welcome to Mining the Store, the podcast for small business owners who want to mine more gold from their businesses. This is Episode 11.
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.
This time on Mining the Store

00:57 RIP Don LaFontaine and Jerry Reed
02:47 Google introduces it’s Chrome Browser. Is it just another browser, or the beginning of an Internet  revolution?
07:15 Google introduces Chrome with a comic book.
08:28 Unintended consequences of Chrome’s launch. 1. Read the terms of service. 2. Be aware of what’s being said about you on the web. 3. When something goes wrong, admit it and fix it right away whether you’re a multi-billion dollar company or a one person home-based business.
12:15 Watch what you say about politics in a business context.
14:40 If you must comment, at least be logical about it. Dumb statements will cause others to question your credibility in other areas.
16:38 Politics as marketing. How do you sell Dr. Pepper or Seven Up to a nation of cola drinkers?
20:10 Mike O’Laughlin is a pioneer in the use of web 2.0 to promote his business. The Irish Roots Cafe provides a lot of good stuff for anyone searching for their Irish ancestors.
21:34 Your favorite podcaster will lead a discussion at Podcamp Ireland on September 27.
22:27 If you know anything about Alpha Buckley who lived in Peru, IN back in the 1850’s, I’d love to hear from you.

Direct download: Episode_11.mp3
Category: podcasts — posted at: 1:50 PM

Building Your Small Business with Email Newsletters Part 3

We’ve discussed the why of email newsletters.  Yesterday we discussed the how.  Today, we’ll take a look at the what and the where.  What do you put in your newsletter and where do you get it.

Remember, the first word in newsletter is news.  Your customer hasn’t given you her contact information so you can clog up her inbox with a constant barrage of ads.  You’re certainly entitled to include "a word from our sponsor", but if you don’t provide valuable content your customer’s only action will be to hit the "delete" button.

Another important point, never be a slave to the calendar.  If you don’t have anything to say, don’t send a newsletter.  It’s much better have an irregular schedule than to be like clockwork with nothing to say.  You’d rather have them wondering where you are than have them wondering why you came.

So, what’s news.  Assuming that you got into business because you love your chosen industry then anything about your business that’s interesting to you should be interesting to your customers.  Take trade magazines.  Most articles that deal with happenings in the industry have the potential to be rewritten as a consumer item.  Many of your customers are "first adopters".  They want to be in on what’s new.  Write about it.

Another good source for content is your vendors.  We do our best to keep you supplied with current information.  Most of it can be adapted for a consumer audience.  Talk to your sales representatives.  Most of them should be more than happy to help you get your newsletter off the ground, and to be a continuing source.  You won’t know unless you ask.

Possibly the richest never-ending source of material is the Internet.  The web is full of blogs, podcasts, web sites and forums that can be a rich source of content.  Do a Google search on any topic and you’ll have all the material you need.  Set up a Google Alert for topics of interest to your customers and your inbox will soon be full of article ideas.  If you don’t already, start following relevant blogs and podcasts.  If you’re not sure how to do that, here’s an earlier post on RSS feeds.

There are a couple of resources for your newsletter that are literally right under your nose.  One is your customers.  Has someone found a new use for your products?  Have them tell you about it and write it up.  Is someone particularly delighted with your products or service, have them put their feelings in writing.  There is nothing more powerful than an endorsement from a satisfied customer.  Remember, there’s nothing wrong with stories that highlight items for
sale in your store.  "Come in and buy this" is an ad.  "Here’s how your
neighbor used this" is a news item.  It’s a subtle difference, but it’s
important.

Another excellent resource is your staff.  They’re on the front lines.  They know what’s going on with your customers.  Ask them what’s new and use that for a topic.  Better yet, invite them to be a contributor to the newsletter.  You might even make it a perk.  Give the Employee of the Month a chance to tell their story.

Last but not least, you can draw on your own knowledge and experience.  After all, you’re the expert. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.  If you love to talk about your business, writing about it is just another way of communicating.  Your customers are particularly interested in upcoming events.  If you’re planning a sale, or if a brand new product is coming in, that’s news.  Write it up.

This brings us to a final point, don’t expect to win a Pulitzer Prize for your writing.  If your customers are looking for great prose, they’ll subscribe to The New Yorker.  Unless your customers are all English teachers, you won’t be graded on your work.  The best way to kick off a newsletter is to just do it.  Check out the services we mentioned in yesterday’s post.  Sign up for one of the free trials and start experimenting with some of the templates.  When you find one you like, go with it. 

Do a practice run.  Put together a sample issue and show it to your family, your staff, your friends, anyone who will give you an honest evaluation.  If there are bugs in your first effort, try again.  Even if you have to do three or four test issues before you "go live" it’s worth your time.  You don’t have to be perfect, but you want to do a professional job.

Have fun with this and your customers will have fun too.