Small Business Social Media Guide

American Express is offering a free guide called Implement Smart Growth Strategies. It doesn’t go into great detail, but it does give some good examples of small business social media success.

It’s amazing to me that in 2010, almost 2011, so many medium to large businesses just don’t get social media.  It’s one area where smaller is definitely better.  I think what they’re missing is the “social” part.  Folks who use facebook, twitter, and other social media tools aren’t looking for slick presentations.  They want content.  They want information.  They want to be entertained.  They want to believe that the companies they choose to follow actually care about them.  Some big companies understand this.  Most don’t.

As a small business, you’re online approach should mirror your personal approach.  “Well, good morning, Mr. Buckley.  Gee I’m glad you came into my business.  How can I help you today?”  Not, “Go find the stuff you want, put it in a cart, then stand in a long line to give me your money.”

Check out this AmEx guide and think about what you can do to serve your customers better.

Retailers, What to do about the Internet?

I’ve been following a conversation on another forum that was started with my recent post, “Are Your Suppliers Letting You Down on the Web?”  You may recall that the original article was about manufacturers who don’t use the web effectively to communicate with their dealers.  Like most on-line conversations, this one has morphed into a discussion on how independent retailers and manufacturers should handle Internet sales to consumers.

We know that there are price-only shoppers who will come into your store, get all the information they need, then go to the web to buy the item at the lowest price they can find.  On the other hand, there are customers who do their research on the web then buy the item locally.  The question is, which group is bigger?  My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that more consumers fall into the second group.

Maybe I’m not a very good shopper, but I’m in the second group mainly because I (1) prefer to support my local merchants and (2) I’ve yet to find anything on line that I couldn’t buy at the same price, or close to it, locally.

Here’s the thing.  If I can buy an item for, say $200.00 on line and I can buy it for $210.00  or $220.00 locally, I’ll buy local every time.  Basically, I’m a mechanical idiot.  It’s worth it to me to spend an extra 5-10% to have somebody close by to hold my hand when I can’t figure out how to make something work.  I’m not alone.  Based on the statistics, a lot of people feel the same way.

Case in point:  I just bought a new cell phone.  The instruction book wasn’t in the box.  Today I’ll go back to the store and get it.  If I had bought the phone on-line, I’d have to send an email and wait for a response.  Assuming they get back to me, I’ll then have to wait for the instruction book to come in the mail.  Meanwhile, I have a $179.00 phone that I can’t use properly.

To me, the key to competing with on-line merchants is to let the customer know how much your service is worth.  Granted, some people just don’t care.  All they’re interested in is getting the lowest price.  Chances are those people aren’t your customers anyway.  If there were no Internet, they’d either buy from the big box store, or they’d be searching the ads in the back of the magazines.  Either way, you don’t get the sale.

There’s a lot of hype about on-line merchants.  The media love them!  Price shoppers think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.  (I wonder what the greatest thing was before somebody invented sliced bread?)  Anyway, the facts don’t necessarily support the hype.  Depending on the industry, web sales still represent a small piece of the total pie.  According to the US Department of Commerce, 3rd Quarter 2009 on-line sales represented 3.7% of all retail.  Obviously the percentage varies by industry, but overall, nine out of ten retail dollars are spent at brick and mortar stores.

e commerce stats

Big on-line merchants like Amazon.com are doing very nicely, thank you.  But there’s still a huge market out there for your store.  Rather than chasing sales that you’re never going to get, in 2010 your brick and mortar customer should be your major focus.

Granted, on-line sales are growing, 4.7% in the third quarter of ’09 vs. 4.3% in ‘o8.  Today’s strategy may not work in the future but carpe diem,  seize the day.

Meanwhile manufacturers will continue to wrestle with the question of how best to market their products.  That 4.7% is worth more than $30 billion, hardly chump change.  Like I said in my last post, brick and mortar independent retailers should support suppliers who support them.

Here’s a post that I wrote in 2006 on Your Business Strategy that you might find interesting.

Twitter Can Improve Your Search Engine Ratings

Thanks to Andrew Williams of Vac Shop, Mayfield, Newcastle Australia for pointing out this post at Website Magazine.  Search engines Google and Bing (formerly MSN search) announced last week that they’re going to start indexing Twitter tweets.

According to Website, a new eMarketer report (“Social Commerce on Facebook, Twitter and Retail Sites”) “while some e-commerce merchants are experimenting with these sites, most merchants are still ignoring them.”

Considering that social media sites can be used to promote your business at virtually no cost, it makes sense to use them, especially if your competitors aren’t there.

 

Cardinals & Dogers–Plus a New Web Site

[picapp src=”7/b/7/8/Cardinals_Albert_Pujols_fafd.JPG?adImageId=4756101&imageId=6514180″ width=”234″ height=”171″ /]

This has nothing whatsoever to do with small business or mining the store, but hey, it’s free so once in a while I get to post something off-topic. The Cardinals and the Dodgers are getting ready to play fall baseball. They play 162 games just to get to this point so congratulations to both teams.

Plus, I’m trying out a new site called PicApp which gives bloggers access to thousands of royalty-free photos. Some of the search results can be a little strange. For instance, a search for “vacuum cleaners” returned what you might expect except for a handful of pix of the Hoover Dam. Somehow the logic goes from vacuum to hoover to Hoover Dam. But other searches, like the one I made for Albert Pujols returned the pic above and dozens of others.

If you click on the picture of Albert, you’ll be taken to the original on the PicApp site along with the all the other photo results of my “Pujols” search.  Pretty cool.

If you’re doing any kind of online work, you might want to check it out.

A City That Gets It.

This post first appeared on September 7, 2007.  Since I’m sitting here in Huntsville once again, it seemed like a good time for a rerun.  I hope you enjoy it.  FYI, the Marriott Courtyard in Huntsville does offer free wifi.

Huntsville, AL

Huntsville_wifi
I’m posting this from the Big Spring Park in Huntsville, AL, where they actually offer free wireless internet service.  Wi-Fi at our hotel costs $10 per day, but you can sit in the park, enjoy the beautiful weather, AND check your email for free.

As we’ve been discussing, the Internet is everywhere, but wi-fi in the park is a great idea.  Instead of being tethered to an ethernet cable or a phone line, in a hotel room with too little work space and not enough light, in Huntsville you can enjoy the fresh air and the scenery while you check your email.

Jogging in the park isn’t my cup of tea (or glass of sweet tea here in the South) but blogging in the park is something I could get use to.

I imagine the presence of NASA in Huntsville, and the high tech industry that supports the space program might have something to do with having the Internet in the park, but I predict that the day isn’t far off when every city will have it.

Meanwhile, your intrepid blogger will continue working hard for you, even on vacation.

Blogging_in_the_park

Small Business Search Using Google Local

I’ve posted here before on the subject of Google Local Search.  Rather than go into too much detail again, you can review Free Advertising for Your Small Business.

But, here’s a video from Google that might help you, especially if you haven’t listed your business yet.

Thanks to Krishna De and her guest, Ken O’Connor, for pointing out this resource on Krishna’s Business Growth Live podcast.

Take Notes with Your iPhone

iTalkIf you’re like me you need to take notes.  Sometimes I think of something then forget it while I’m looking for a piece of paper to write it down.  If you’re an iPhone user, here’s help from Griffin Technologies.

Griffin is offering an app for your iPhone (or iPod Touch) called iTalk.  iTalk turns your iPhone into a dictating machine.  Best of all, the ad-supported version of iTalk is free.  You can avoid the ads by paying just $4.99.

I’ve not personally seen iTalk in action, but from Griffin’s description, it certainly sounds like a useful tool for your iPhone at a very affordable price.

Just a Reminder

I know you know this.  So do I.  But it never hurts to be reminded.

As I write this on my laptop, I’m in the process of trying to get my PC back from the virus that’s taken it over.  Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool has found 146 items so far and the scan is only 9% complete.  This nonsense will probably take up most of my day.

Three pieces of friendly advice:

1.  Regularly back up your information. Either use an external drive or on-line back up service. (I use Amazon S-9.) Both types of back up are incredibly inexpensive.  However, price should be no object when it comes to protecting your files, music, photos, etc.

2.  Get and use a good anti-virus program.  Again, they’re well worth the price.

3.   Never, never, never let anything download itself to your computer unless you know and trust the source.

I can hear what you’re thinking.  “Wait a minute, oh wise blogger!  Didn’t you write about this before?”  Yes, I did.  I’m good at dispensing advice but when it comes to taking it; not so much.

See, I’m here to serve as a bad example for the rest of you.  While you’re computing away on your  virus-free, backed-up computers, I’ll be here cleaning up the mess I’ve made.

For what it’s worth, I do have my data backed up on line.  So I did take half of my own advise.  Lately, I’ve taken to writing important documents using Google Docs, so they’re already stored elsewhere.  And I did have anti-virus software installed, but I missed the annual renewal.  But, trust me.  I will have it reinstated before lunch, at least on the computer that’s currently working.  The infected PC will have to get well first.

Is it “happy hour” yet?

Have a great, virus-free day!

April Fool? No Apparent Ill Effects from Conficker

According to CNET there is no visible sign that Conficker has done any damage so far today.  AP reports that the worm may have gotten more aggressive in trying to contact it’s maker but that so far there have been no visible problems.

The April 1 date written in the code may have been a red herring to get everybody all excited.  When we’ve seen that nothing happened we may let our guard down for an attack at a later date.

It’s also possible that the worm might not show itself while it’s silently stealing all your valuable information or using your machine as a “bot” to send thousands of emails without your knowledge.

Several sources are reporting that infected machines have been trying to contact their “masters” for further instructions, but that they don’t seem to be getting an answer.  However, they will keep trying until they do.  That could happen yet today, tomorrow, or at some other future date.

The worm is still out there.  Millions of machines may be infected.  And the worm is still capable of spreading.  Whatever you do, don’t let your guard down.  Quoting the CNET article:

“The funny thing is that every one has these expectations that come to them from science fiction viruses. In the movies they blow up the terminal, tip over an oil tanker and bring aliens out of the sky,” said Perry [David Perry, global director of security education at Trend Micro]. “In reality, the kind of thing a botnet does is much less visible. It’s a lot more insidious of them to steal your bank password than to blow up your computer.”

Here’s the bottom line:  Keep your software up-to-date.  Use Windows Update to keep your operating system current.  Install and use a good anti-virus software.  And whatevere you do, backup your critical files.

You wouldn’t leave your paper files lying around where anyone could see them.  You’d keep them in a locked cabinet.  Most likely you’d keep a duplicate set at another location for protection against a fire or other disaster.  You should do no less with your digital files.

The CNET piece is short but informative.  Take a few minutes to read it and listen to the related podcast.

Conflicker 3–April Fool’s Joke or Computer Armegeddon?

Two things we know for sure.  Conflicker 3, the latest computer “worm” has infected millions of computers and it’s going to do something this Wednesday, April 1.  Beyond that, opinions vary dramatically on what effect this thing might have on your computer.

Worst case is that the hackers who created this monster have evil plans to destroy worldwide computing as we know it.  You could wake up Wednesday morning to find that you have a blank hard drive, or that the World Wide Web has become a World Wide Mess.

Next worse case is that you might find all your passwords and confidential information compromised.  Your bank accounts may be cleaned out and your identity stolen.

Another possibility is that you computer will become a slave, doing whatever the master computer tells it, including sending out millions of spam emails.  Combined with millions of other computers doing the same thing, the Internet could be in chaos and/or total shutdown.

Or, you may just see a message saying “April Fool!”

Like I said, experts agree that the virus is real and that it’s waiting for “instructions” on April 1 but not on what those instructions might be.

According to many of the people who know about these things, the most likely scenario is that the people responsible for Conflicker plan on making money from it.  Aparently most hackers have graduated from cyber-vandals to cyber-crooks.  Rather than just cause trouble, they want to get rich.

As far as your own computers are concerned, the first and best thing you can do is run an anti-virus program.  Don’t wait.  Do it as soon as you finish reading this.  There’s no time to lose.  April 1 is literally just hours away.  If you don’t have anti-virus software, get it now and run it.  Anti-virus software is cheap insurance.  In fact, there are free programs available on the web including one from Microsoft called “Windows Defender“.

The next suggestion, and you’ve heard it here more than once, BACK UP YOUR IMPORTANT FILES! Do it at work and at home.  If Conflicker turns out to be a file-destroying virus, you’re information won’t be lost if you back it up.  Obviously you don’t want to back up your files on your hard drive.  Use an external drive, CD or DVD, or an online storage site like Amazon S-3.

If you use Windows, Microsoft has a fact sheet on the virus including a patch for your machine that they recommend that you install IMMEDIATELY!  They also advise that you enable your firewall (instructions here) and that you make sure you have “strong” passwordsx.

Last, but not least, if you’re a knowledgable computer-type person, Microsoft is offering a $250,000 reward for the criminals who have perpetrated this latest cyber-fraud.

Here are links to some interesting articles on the topic:

No Joke in April Fool’s Day Computer Worm” from CNN.

Could April 1 Be Conflicker’s Trigger Date? from the National Business Review

Beware Conflicker Worm Come April 1” from Yahoo

Internet Worm Set to Change Tactics April 1” from MSNBC

Alert:  April 1 Conflicker Computer Worm” from CNN by way of CBS News.