Courtesy of MSN’s Business on Main, we’re providing the answers to some of the big questions regarding social media. Although we cover it quite a bit here on Smallbiztechnology.com, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to keep things short and sweet. Here are a couple of questions that we hope our readers have been dying to ask, with answers from some of the top blogging and social media gurus at Business on Main.
1. With so many blogs, tweets and Facebook pages out there already, is it really going to make a difference if my business adds to the noise level?
The short answer: definitely. Besides being a “must-have” for any business these days, the great thing about blogs, Twitter and Facebook is that they are low-investment ways to build a community. This is not advertising; it’s the most fundamental kind of marketing, which is all about constituency-building. It’s about giving customers ways to connect with your company that they prefer. And if they like your company, they will find you, and they will build an online community around you. That’s invaluable. Considering that all it requires is a few minutes to set up, and a little sweat equity to maintain, it’s a no-brainer. So stop fighting the technology and embrace your customers online.
— Dan Briody
2. Just when I got a handle on Facebook and Twitter, I started hearing about Google+. What exactly is Google+, and should I be using it to promote my small business?
Google+ is Google’s recently launched social network, still in invite-only “trial mode.” During the first few weeks, invites were tough to come by. But now, more than a month into the trial, anyone using the service should be able to send you an invitation (if you don’t know anyone on Google+, contact me using the http://www.vanessafox.com/contact/ form on my site, and I’ll send you one).
So, as a small-business owner, should you devote even more of your limited resources to social media by jumping into the Google+ fray?
Google has been explicit that this trial period is for personal connections and profiles only, and that business profiles won’t be available until later this year. In fact, Google has very publicly been removing business accounts — it even removed the Sesame Street profile. If Sesame Street doesn’t get an exception, no one does.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate in Google+ as someone representing your organization. If your audience members are discussing topics relevant to your business on Google+, then absolutely consider creating a profile and joining them there. Google+ product manager Christian Oestlien said, “We recommend you find a real person who is willing to represent your organization on Google+ using a real profile as him- or herself. “ (Here’s mine.)
It’s worth getting comfortable with Google+ since Google is planning to expand it to power much of its infrastructure. Google+ may eventually be integrated with Google Maps (for local businesses), YouTube (for any businesses publishing video), AdWords (for socially targeted audience), Google Product Search (for product ratings and reviews), and so on.
To get started with Google+, you’ll set up “circles” so you can share and view content and discussions with different groups. For instance, you could set up a “family” circle and share personal posts only with those you add to that circle, and a “business” circle and share posts related to your company with your customers. With circles, you can manage who sees what and you don’t have to worry about filling your customers’ feeds with photos of your kids or cats!
As with all social media, don’t be overly promotional. Spend more time reading than posting, and add value to discussions.
— Vanessa Fox
3. I have a personal website and blog about one of my passions — cooking. But I’m launching a retail business that has nothing to do with food. Should I acknowledge my personal blog on my business site, or just ignore it?
Your question resonates with anyone starting a business and wrestling with how to integrate seemingly unrelated backgrounds and interests into a new business message.
The answer is this: When in doubt, leave it out. Here’s why.
Your business success hinges on your ability to cultivate awareness, preference and trust in the minds of those in your target audience, where there’s room for only one concise, clear message about what your business is and does. If you jam extraneous or conflicting information into that message, you’ll cause confusion at the least. At the worst, you’ll weaken customers’ capacity to absorb and trust your primary message.
For that reason, unless you’re certain your blog content strengthens your business message, it has no place on your business site. But that doesn’t mean it has no place in your business conversations. Once they choose your business, customers like knowing that the people they’re working with are interesting, knowledgeable and involved.
Follow these two steps:
– Keep your business marketing communications focused solely on your business message — what your business is and does, what market niche you serve, what unique and relevant benefits you promise, and why your promise is believable and trustworthy.
– Use the “About Us” section of your site to a share personal introduction that builds a bridge between your personal background and your business message. For instance, “When she’s not fine-tuning her inventory of one-of-kind Italian fashions and accessories, she’s replicating and writing about her favorite dishes sampled on her buying trips — which you can read about by following her blog … .”
— Barbara Findlay Schenck
4. I’m thinking about starting a blog for my business to expand our online presence. Are business blogs still relevant or should I just stick to social media?
Over the past couple of years, social media has been usurping blogging for personal and business users alike. The steady flow of new capabilities on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn may make blogs seem less exciting. It’s getting harder to define a blog, since they’re entrenched in the mainstream media. So why bother when one-sentence status updates are consuming readers’ time? While the creation of new blogs might be slowing, there’s no evidence that popular blogs are going away. If you’re a small business looking into blogging, consider how it can be a strategic communications tool. Blogs are excellent vehicles for crisis response or letters from executives. They can be wonderful formats for educating readers on your industry, market and other important issues. A blog allows you to apply your own corporate branding and unique look and feel, unlike social networks. For lead generation, however, blogs are losing favor to social media sites like Facebook. Today, the blog may not be the front-facing online marketing page for your business, but it can be an effective branch of the marketing tree along with your website, SEO strategy and social media program.
— Polly Traylor
Paul Verna, senior analyst with e-marketer, contributed ideas to this response.