The social media challenge

Recently while my morning bus was idling at some lights, my eyes were drawn to a huge moving billboard featuring a new car that wanted to be friends. Facebook friends. I couldn’t imagine why. I visited its page out of curiosity & I still can’t.

It would be a brave marketing professional to suggest leaving social media out of any promotional campaign at the moment, such is its popularity. But the challenge with social media seems to be measuring return on investment (ROI) & applying appropriate strategies.

Promoting something on social media isn’t free. There’s a time cost (it can certainly drain time), an opportunity cost (could the time have been better spent?) & potentially risks – as there are with any public dialogue. What’s the best strategic approach?

The passive approach

Justifying this level of involvement with social media seems a no-brainer to me. Encouraging users to ‘like’ your web pages or share them via their favourite social networking, social news or social bookmarking sites is incredibly easy. Users have the chance to spread your messages for you. And spread links.

An advantage is that people treat information from friends differently to marketing messages.

Tools like ‘Add This‘ make it incredibly easy. Copy some simple javascript to insert a row of social media icons in the footer of your pages. Add This will even detect your user’s recent activity on various platforms and show the icons most relevant to your user – a very clever feature!

Asking to be ‘Liked’

Contrast this with a more active approach – setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account – then dedicating time to actively push out messages to build up a following. It’s labour intensive. People are electing to receive messages from your organisation, much like subscribing to an enewsletter. Only in regular little bites.

Facebook friends aren’t really a valid measure of success (in life or business).  You might think of Facebook friends or Twitter followers as you would email or RSS subscribers. You wouldn’t boast about sending out a message to 2,000 email addresses. ‘So what?’ your boss would say.

How many opened your email? How many clicked through to your site? How many of these downloaded your report, bought your product or met your target goal?

Think you can’t track that with social media? Of course you can. By tagging links shared & setting up Google Analytics goals you’re well on your way to measuring ROI (if you can monetise goals). If you can measure it for a direct email (& a lot of sophistication is expected of direct mail evaluations) there’s no reason you can’t measure if for social media & start to compare the cost vs benefits of social media marketing vs paid ads, SEO, offline marketing, emails & other promotions.

Awareness

Often people justify quoting ‘friends and followers’ numbers because their campaigns are about raising ‘awareness’. Awareness seems conveniently removed from direct action. But there’s still much that can be measured. How much unprompted discussion is going on about your campaign on social media? Free tools like www.socialmention.com allow you to get a feel for conversations around keywords you nominate.

Save time, use money

Another valid strategy is social media ads. Forget about the slog of building up a following, Facebook ads give you incredible control over the demographic & preferences of your audience. You can put your message in front of people who wouldn’t choose to ‘like’ you, instead of preaching to the converted. 

Curb your enthusiasm

I love social media. It’s revolutionised the web & is a great space to be involved with. Judging by the euphoria it’s been embraced with, the challenge for many campaigning with social media, is remembering to apply the same strategies and evaluation principles used in other business decisions. The tools are available.

My top 15 FREE web tools for small business

When Tim Berners-Lee was creating the network that’s popularly credited with being the first internet, it was all about sharing stuff for free. Now, over 20 years later, the open source movement is as strong as ever and the web’s still a fantastic source of FREE stuff.

In fact, there’s a business tool for just about everything you need to create a professional online presence, using low-cost or free options. Here’s a few of my favourites!

1. WordPress

Free content management software & web hosting. You can’t beat it. There are lots of options – like the free hosted wordpress.com or downloading the software (www.wordpress.org) to customise it yourself. SquareSpace or Eden Platform are strong, low-cost alternatives. In Australia the Getting Business Online project offers free sites using the MYOB Atlas tool. And Google sites is another basic option. 

2. Free website designs

If you’re using one of the free content management systems above, you’ll get a choice of design templates. But if you’re site’s just got a few pages and static HTML suits your needs, there almost unlimited free designs to choose from. Sites like Dream Template or Free web templates offer literally thousands. You could spend a day looking through them all.

3. Stock.XCHNG (free stock photos)

I love this site – a stock photo exchange. Amateur photographers share their work and it’s mostly free to use (check the terms for each photo).

4. Gmail (free email hosting)

Host your email, with your domain, for free. That is, you can have an address like info@publishingservices.com.au (go on, send me a message) and host it through Gmail, making use of the calendar synchronisation and other small business tools.

5. The rest of Google’s toolbox

I’m lumping these all together – Google docs, maps, alerts, calendar, blogger, mobile – they’re all unique and separate tools that would probably make the list in their own right. Add to these:

6. LinkedIn

Social networking for professionals. Get real leads, connect with peers, share information on benchmarking and best practice. Yammer is another good social networking tool for within your business.

7. Open Office

An open-source alternative to MicroSoft’s tools.

8. Mozilla

More than just a web browser, Mozilla is open source web at its best. The code is absolutely free and you can download it, modify it and re-release your own browser no questions asked. The open source community also contributes to a wonderful library of add-ons that make Mozilla more than a browser. There are link checkers, accessibility tools, site speed reports – have a look yourself.

9. Issuu (a flash way to present PDFs)

Here’s a recent discovery of mine (there are a few of these tools around but this one’s so simple). Take your stock-standard Adobe Portable Document File (PDF), which is a free tool in itself that we shouldn’t take for granted, and turn it into a flash (another free tool) application so you can embedd a page-turning document into your website. Just looks so nice!

10. YouTube

Ok, you already know about it but, stop for a moment to think about how wonderful it is. If you can remember (or imagine) what it was like having to format your own videos and try to have them stream from your own server, you’ll appreciate every opportunity to use YouTube. Other options like Vimeo offer a similar service.

11. Mail Chimp (free enewsletter tool)

Choose and modify your templates, and get a fantastic looking HTML newsletter. Wonderful for small business.

12. Drop box

A free file transfer alternative. Don’t have an FTP site for moving large business files around? This provides a secure way to move them. Send This File is another and You Send It offers free trials.

13. eBay stores

Ok this isn’t quite free but when you think of what it costs to build an online store, it’s nice to have the option to set up your own on ebay and integrate it with the rest of your online presence.

14. Xenu Link Sleuth

Check your links and more! It doesn’t look flash but this little web crawler tool has a lot of cred. It’s light and fast and it just scans huge volumes of pages quickly. Scan your site for broken links, create XML sitemaps and more.

15. Wikipedia

Last but not least, perhaps the best free business tool available on the web is the wealth of information. Wikipedia is the poster-child for the best that the web can be – collaborative, expansive, global, ever-changing, adaptable and very, very useful. WikiSpaces is a free tool you can use to create an editable wiki space for within your own organisation.

Your favourites

These have been some of my favourites, why not share yours. Post a reply – what’s your favourite online business tool or freebie?

DIY, until you need some help

Today’s post is about how I managed to turn a simple computer upgrade into a week’s lost work and the equivalent cost of a brand new machine. And though I may have also ground another layer of enamel off my teeth in frustration, it got me thinking.

As a small business owner or sole trader you’re often expected to juggle all sorts of skills that would be the responsibility of specialists in a larger workforce. You’ll often manage your own books, market and promote your own services, manage your tax – the list is long and if you’re a sole trader it may be unwritten and endless – everything’s your responsibility.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t outsource. For some things it’s a necessity. Knowing where to draw the line is the art and science of running a business.

Whether you decide to throw time or your money, at your problems, neither approach is wrong. It depends on the stage of your business and which you have more of.

It also depends on your skill set. BUT how well can we judge our own skills in areas we’re not familiar?

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing

Here’s the rub – not being a subject expert, it’s the things you don’t know that you don’t know, that’ll hurt you in the end.

I like to think I understand how to put PCs together. But the reality is that I do to a point. (After laborious investigations, it seems my hard-drives don’t like my new motherboard – thanks to Geeks 2 U for eventually coming to the rescue).

Knowing when you’re beaten

We all have our specialities and we all live in a world of incredible complexity, that’s mostly hidden from us.

IT folk probably know this better than most, but as someone who works in the publishing industry, I see it too. Publishing information on the web or in print is a process and you get better at it the more you do it. If it’s your job and you do it for many years, you can expect to learn a thing or two.

At face value it looks like the sort of thing everyone could do for themselves. And it is. But if your specialty is somewhere else, don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Formatting with style

The ‘Styles’ function in Microsoft Word can save you a heap of time & money by doing all the grunt work involved in formatting text. In your document choose Format > Style to display the style dialogue box. In the drop down menu choose to list All Styles.

As you’ll see, Word has a huge number of predefined styles you can assign to headings, body text, bullets, tables & footnotes.

These styles can be assigned to the toolbar as a drop down list to make them even easier to access & use. You can also modify each of the styles to suit your needs.

Once you’ve set them up, you simply assign a style to each paragraph by leaving your cursor in the text and choosing the style (e.g. ‘Header 1’) from the menu. Hey presto – you’ve got a heading!

With a single click, each of your paragraphs can be given consistent formatting. Each style contains information on:

  • text alignment
  • tabs
  • paragraph spacing
  • font & size
  • colour
  • borders & shading.

Save on Typesetting Time

Not only will this ensure consistency of layout & encourage you to think about structure, it can also save time (& hence money) if your text is later typeset in a page layout program.

Whatever new styles your designer comes up with can be imported over the ones you’ve already assigned. This is a lot faster than scanning through the entire text to assign the styles all over again.

Be Consistent

To ensure you’re consistent you can set up your screen in Word to display the style of each paragraph in the left margin. Choose Tools > Options & in the dialogue box that pops up simply enter a value for the width of the Style Box (the default is 0, so it doesn’t normally appear).

Once set up, simply drag the border to a convenient size.

What is copyright?

Copyright laws protect authors of original material. Their creations are their own intellectual property & they have rights. A copyright owner is the only person allowed to reproduce a work or to make it public. Copyright protection is automatic on original material. It doesn’t have to be registered & there are no other requirements. So, everything is protected by copyright laws!

Fair Use

While this is true, it’s generally considered fair use to reproduce small sections of a work for the purposes of reviewing it or referring to it. However, this is only OK where the material reproduced doesn’t amount to ‘a substantial amount’ of the original work.

As a rule of thumb, more than 100 words is usually considered an amount that requires a licence or permission for reproduction from the copyright owner. This is assessed cumulatively so several short quotes may amount to over 100 words. And if the original work is a short poem or song lyric then even a few words could amount to ‘a substantial amount’ & be protected.

Copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years.

Who Owns Copyright?

The original creator of material is the copyright owner unless an agreement has been made to the contrary. So, for example:

  • ‘an author will own the copyright to his or her written words
  • a publisher will own copyright of the published edition
  • if you create material as part of your employment, your employer will usually own it
  • in the case of journalists & photographers who work for periodicals such as newspapers & magazines, a special split ownership occurs. 

However, rights may be assigned by being bought, sold or licensed. A licence to reproduce material may be exclusive or non-exclusive & may be limited by time or, to a certain territory or medium.

Moral Rights

On top of copyright law, the creator of an original work can take action against anyone who:

  • doesn’t attribute the work to its owner, or
  • falsely attributes it as the work of someone else, or
  • alters the work without indicating that it has been altered.

Organising a Licence

Publishing contracts assign the responsibility to clear rights with the author if he or she wishes to use copyright material. If you need to use copyright material in a publication you can normally contact its publisher to request permission. In addition, the Copyright Agency Ltd is a useful service that can organise copyright licences (at a cost) for certain material.

Protecting Your Work

Material that you have created will automatically be protected under copyright law. However, it’s advisable to include the copyright notice in your material to dissuade inappropriate reproduction.

Useful Resources:

 Remember: if in doubt, leave it out!