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21 Posts authored by: Inc.

by Lou Dubois

 

The check-in giant recently relaunched their business page offerings, making it easier for local businesses, retail chains and individual brands to reap the benefits and retain customers.

 

Foursquare had 381,576,300 individual user check-ins, 6 million users and a 3400% growth in 2010 alone.  So it's safe to say that location-based services are no longer a fad. Just a few weeks ago, Foursquare announced their "Foursquare for Business" page, which existing businesses utilizing the service may not see as terribly different. But for companies yet to involve themselves with the service, this re-launch makes it much easier to become a part of the trendy crowd.

 

"We're not changing what we do with this launch," says Tristan Walker, Foursquare's director of business development. "It was just a revamping of the site and helping to explain in a little better detail exactly what we offer to businesses."

 

So how does the new offering change what Foursquare can do for small businesses? In this guide, we'll explore specifically why retention is so important to business and what the new business page offers that makes it so unique for businesses.

 

How to Best Utilize the New Foursquare for Business: Small Business Potential

Among the new offerings included in the relaunch, though, in addition to local merchants and national retailers being able to "claim their venue" (which can be done quite simply), was the ability for brands and businesses to utilize the badges recognition system.

 

A pretty impressive group of companies have already signed on to the project, ranging from traditional retail locations to brands themselves. Included in that impressive list from a merchant perspective are Starbucks, Sports Authority, and the Museum of Modern Art; and for those not tied to a physical location there is Bravo TV, MTV (which was the top brand on Foursquare in 2010), Louis Vuitton, Red Bull and more.

 

But while all of that is great for large brands and national retail chains, the real potential for Foursquare remains with small businesses, and according to Walker, that remains the core of the businesses that are best utilizing the service. "For merchants, there are two things that really matter: acquisition and retention," he says. " And really I think the goal for us, and we've said this from the beginning, is to bring back the nostalgic, remember-your-name kind of loyalty that consumers still want. We want to redefine what loyalty means at a retailer, merchant, or even to a brand, because that makes a difference."

 

How to Best Utilize the New Foursquare for Business: New Customers Cost More Than Retaining Existing Ones

As long as businesses have been around, loyalty has been the key to keeping customers. If you're a coffee shop or bar and you remember you're a customer's favorite drink and name, they're much more likely to come back. And in the social space, many consumers view businesses in this regard: if you're not on social networks and social media like I am, perhaps I'm not your target consumer. As a business, this is an old adage: be everywhere your consumers are.

 

The best thing about Foursquare for Business is that it is a completely free service (other than a minimal investment in time). So in the past, the only loyalty methods may have been the owner remembering a customer name. No more. Claiming a location/venue is made considerably easier with this relaunch.

 

To create a badge, there is a nominal fee that Foursquare determines varies based on your business. According to a statement from the company, "the amount that we charge for branded badges varies by partner. Sometimes there is a monetary value attached to badges, and sometimes we exchange badges for promotion through various channels. We evaluate partnerships on a case-by-case basis and try to form agreements that are mutually beneficial."

 

But why does retaining a customer matter so much? Dependent upon which statistics you are viewing, it can cost anywhere between five and nine times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. And as the Harvard Business Review states, 91% of small businesses do absolutely nothing to retain their existing clients (meaning only 9% understand this reality). Consider the following numbers:

 

•    According to John Coe, author of, The Fundamentals of Business To Business Sales and Marketing, "68% of long-term customers stop buying because they just don't feel loved."

•    The average American business loses 50% of its customer base every 5 years. – HBR

•    An existing customer spends an average of 67% more than new customers.  – HBR

 

If you take it a step further and consider that customer retention is influenced just as much by brand, product and service proposition, then customer experience is the primary factor in brand loyalty, acquisition and customer retention. All that being said, the average organizational expenditure still breaks down as follows (according to James Digby, marketing manager at TeleFaction):

 

• 55% is on new customer acquisition

• 33% is on brand awareness

• Only 12% is on customer retention

 

How to Best Utilize the New Foursquare for Business: What Does the New Foursquare For Business Do?

But what does all of this mean for small businesses? The new page offers up very simple and very visual step-by-step instructions for how merchants, venues and brands can use the Foursquare service to promote themselves, as opposed to the less user-friendly data they provided before. As Foursquare stated when the re-released the product, "It addresses some of businesses' biggest concerns like adding coupon codes for cashiers and shows what the unlock screen looks like so businesses can educate their employees."

 

Other than the ability for brands without physical locations to garner a presence on the new Foursquare, it also offers businesses a chance to toy around with their existing gaming and badge functions, which all goes back to that point of loyalty.

 

Furthermore, and specifically in terms of analytics, Foursquare will continue to offer very robust analytics for a great price (free): male to female ratio, who your regular customers are, when you get the most check-ins, how your customers checking in compares to the customers who are signed up for your loyalty program and more.

 

"At the end of the day, our goal is very simple," Walker says. "We want to redefine what loyalty means at a retailer or merchant. And we think that these changes make it considerably easier for businesses to do that."

 

The big looming question through all of this is the data beyond the original checkin. There are some aggregation services like the recently launched MomentFeed (still in beta), where businesses will be able to tell not just when the customer checks in to their establishment but where they were before, after and what their regular habits are through a simple dashboard. Foursquare is experimenting more in this space as well with their badge system, as their new gym badge will reveal the time of day you are working out (as Walker says, "if you workout in the morning you might get orange juice and oatmeal, or in the afternoon a Gatorade").  It takes the idea of the supermarket loyalty card that tracks when you visit and how much you spend and really takes it to the next level, which is where Foursquare and other location-based services are headed.

 

Article provided by Inc.com. © Inc.

by Marla Tabaka

 

Have you mastered your social media strategy? Do you know how to leverage the power of social media to create meaningful relationships, build your business and learn from your virtual mentors?


Ok, you can admit it. Social media is still somewhat of an enigma to most people and you may be one of them. Sure, we have our guru’s and a relatively small number of business owners who have experienced astounding success with their social media strategy, but the average entrepreneur remains baffled by the mystery of these communities.

 

Today I would like to introduce you to someone who you may want to know if you are serious about making the powerful social media engine work for you.

 

Eric Yaverbaum is the Best Selling Author of several books, including the famed Public Relations For Dummies. With more than 25 years of experience in public relations, Eric has earned a reputation for his unique expertise in strategic media relations, crisis communications, and media training. He co-founded Jericho Communications in 1985, the 11th ranked PR firm in the country to work for and served as its president before its successful merger in 2005. He then founded Ericho Communications in 2006 and has offices in New York City and White Plains.

 

And you’ll be pleased to know that this year, Eric joined forces with the top social media experts in the industry to launch four social media magazines (Tweeting & Business, FB & Business, LI & Business, The Big G & Business) which are projected to have a combined business circulation of 5 million readers. These magazines will deliver insights, strategies and powerful tips to assist you in your social media strategy. For today, Eric offers these “must know” tips to increase your social media savvy. Here’s what he has to say…

 

As John Bartlett once said, "I have gathered a posie of other men's flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own". If you pay close attention to some of the most successful people in social media today, you will get a great education every day. For free! I follow the absolute best in order to form my own opinions. People like Jeffrey Hayzlett, Mari Smith, Nathan Kievman and Larry Genkin are four I have learned the most from!


10 Things a Solopreneur Should Know About Social Media

1. All social media are not the same. LinkedIn should be treated differently than Facebook, which is different from Twitter, which is different from Google+.

 

2. It takes time and frequency to build trust in any social media, just as in any relationship. Social media is a tool, not a destination.

 

3. Use all of your communities as a Business Development tool to source highly targeted potential clients/customers.

 

4. Use LinkedIn to establish Thought Leadership through the growth of a community of highly passionate and engaged people. You can even write a blog that is linked into Facebook, Twitter & Google+.

 

5. You should join groups in all of your social networks. There are also some terrific resources out there for free. You can freely subscribe to any of mine. www.socialmediamags.com

 

6. Your posts will and should reflect the personality of your company. If you are not genuine, you won't last very long. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to sell you something.

 

7. It is okay for your customers to disagree with you on Twitter. That's why they call it "social" media and not "one kind" media. Best practice: Have a policy for how you deal with negative comments and reach out to those who support you. They are your brand ambassadors! This is true for all of your communities,not just Twitter.

 

8. If you choose to schedule your Tweets, timing is everything. The life of a Tweet is about one hour; schedule several times throughout the day. Make your presence consistent and meaningful. Hootsuite might make that easier. Follow suit in your other communities.

 

9. Make sure you are listening to communities on Twitter and any community you participate in! Make no mistake; consumers are in charge now more than ever. Pay attention to what they say. Some of the best product ideas, feedback and problems will come to you from your Twitter communities.

 

10. Use all your communities to cultivate business leads.


Article provided by Inc.com. © Inc.

Inc.

How to Monetize Social Media

Posted by Inc. Oct 23, 2012

by Carolyn M. Brown

Companies are not only getting the word out about their brands using social media such as Facebook and Twitter but are also making money.

 

Many business executives have not found sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Myspace, and Linkedin useful in making money. Building genuine online relationships that are also good for the bottom line is not so easy. There is a lot of trial and error. But while monetizing social media is difficult it is not impossible. There are companies that are getting the word out about their brands using social media and are turning a profit.

 

Take The New York Jets. The NFL team launched their Ultimate Fan social game in September 2010, which was the first revenue generating Facebook app to be backed by a pro sports team. The application lets football fans do online what they would normally do at home and in stadiums—root for their favorite teams and players, predict game scores, and hold a virtual tailgate party with other fans from across the globe. Ultimate Fan has since lured four major sponsors integrating their brands: MetLife, Motorola, SNY and HotelPlanner.com. This year, 10 percent of Jets sponsorships include a social media component; the team is planning to bump it up to 50 percent by next year, according to a spokesperson.

 

The Jets also communicate regularly on Twitter. They even advertised a Twitter-based contest to win tickets to their 2011 AFC playoff championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jets are able to engage with their fans and make them feel like they are part of the team. They are leveraging social medial to capitalize on their fans' passion for the team and their willingness to share that fervor.

 

Like many companies, your social media efforts have started small and grew organically. To capitalize on those efforts to generate sales and revenues you need to have a team of people dedicated to your social media presence. You also will need a deep understanding of your audience, a creative vision, and a way to measure results in order to execute a successful strategy, says industry experts.

 

Here are some ways your social media can be monetized.

 

How to Monetize Social Media: Build Brand Awareness

The first step is to use traditional media or word-of-mouth advertising to drive awareness and traffic to your Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin or Myspace pages, says Jamie Turner, author of How to Make Money with Social Media. Unless you already have a recognizable brand like Nike or Apple, your brand needs to develop social media magnetism before you can look to make any money. You also need to create circular momentum across many platforms when designing your social media campaign, says Turner. By providing multiple channels for users to talk with you, you let customers choose the channel that they are most comfortable with, he adds; and by doing that you increase the likelihood that they'll connect with your brand in any number of ways.

 

How to Monetize Social Media: Engage Your Audience

Social media is about having a dialogue. When you have a dialogue with a customer or prospect, the communication is much more fulfilling and much more profitable, says Turner. The PETCO brand has developed a strong presence in social media. The pet store chain has a YouTube channel, its Facebook page generates a lot of discussions among pet owners, and there's lots of activity on its PETCO Scoop blog, which has received hundreds of 'likes' and comments. PETCO's customers are true pet lovers and treat their pets as part of the family. The company tries to keep conversation going by aiming Facebook and Twitter posts so that there's an explicit question to answer, or at least a specific piece of information to which people can react. Industry experts stress that you have to know your community and know how to take part within that community and through that create great content or conversation that will raise awareness and increase sales.

 

How to Monetize Social Media: Offer Special Promotions

Dell Computers exemplifies a company that is selling products using social media. Its Twitter page, @DellOutlet, offers discounts exclusively to followers. Dell might tweet 15 percent off any Dell Outlet laptop or desktop with a special coupon code entered at checkout so they'll know which tweet you are seeing. @DellOutlet also points you to a specific web page. There is some interaction in terms of chats with tweeters. @DellOutlet has garnered more than 1.6 million followers and generated more than $2 million in incremental revenues for Dell. Traditionally, Dell would have spent a lot of money running print ads. Today, they can write a 140-character promotion to reach customers.

 

PETCO is yet another example. The company provided a promo code to their customers for $40 in free shipping. The person who shared their code with the most people won a $500 PETCO gift card. About 40 percent of the sales that resulted from this promotional push came from new consumers. The desire to save a few bucks drove loyal PETCO customers to connect with the larger pet owner community and spread the word about the store via social media.

 

How to Monetize Social Media: Use Media Advertising

Many companies have used display advertising (banners) and contextual advertising such as Google Ad Words. Many bloggers use Google Adsense to make money. There are plugins to help; you make money from clicks. There are also ad networks that you can join that pool several advertisers. You get a code and banner ads rotate from their network. This is an item that you will want to include in your advertising rate sheet. Major advertisers who buy display ads are finally beginning to figure out how to reach audiences through social networks, and have begun to shift significant dollars into Facebook. Research firm eMarketer estimates Facebook display advertising revenues will grow 80.9 percent this year to $2.19 billion.

 

Instead of a typical banner ad, consider offering a micro site, which would be equivalent to a paid supplement. For example, you could devote one page (a link on your website) specifically to an advertiser's products and services. Or you can become an affiliate. With affiliate marketing you get paid to refer people to another business.

 

Consider combining rich media advertising with display advertising. Video advertising and promotional material can be quickly and easily streamed to your social community. Another consideration is charging for sponsorship on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. Of course, attention needs to be paid between balancing the delivery of the rich media advertising against the comfort level of your customer base.

 

How to Monetize Social Media: Brand Within Applications

The best way to use apps is to create something that is functional such as a calculator, entertaining such as a game, or provides some sort of social connection such as an app just for your community. Your app can be fee based or you can give it away to build a relationship with customers. A number of well-known company brands use mobile apps to interact with their loyal customers, including Target, Coca-Cola, Nike and Gucci.

 

The fashion designer touts a luxury lifestyle application that is a quintessential example of branded mobile marketing. Through "Gucci Connect" users were able use their mobile devises, such as iPhone or iPad, for virtual access of a Milan fashion show, watch live runway and behind the scenes video coupled with live chat between virtual guests through Facebook and Twitter. Exclusive also to iPhone app subscribers are interactive games. The "Gucci Live" section features a music channel. Subscribers stay "in the know" with a calendar of upcoming brand events and feature articles. The Gucci "Little Black Book" provides recommendations to the hottest restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels in various cities throughout the world.

 

How to Monetize Social Media: Set Up Shop on Facebook

Facebook fan pages are another way to generate sales and enthusiasm especially if you have loyal fans that follow your updates. You can list your products on your Facebook page for fans to easily share with their own friends and essentially allow your product offerings to go viral.

 

Businesses are increasingly selling their goods on Facebook. There are various e-commerce solutions available. One is 8thBridge which is helping companies like 1-800-Flowers and HuateLook sell from Facebook. A special deal 8thBridge ran for the designer brands retailer HauteLook along with fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg generated more than $100,000 in sales in one day, 40 percent of which came from new customers. Users were given a $10 coupon for every new member that they brought in. Using 8thBridge, 1-800-Flowers is drawing people into buying flowers and other gifts for friends and family while they are already thinking about them on Facebook.

 

Payvment is another storefront option that provides online stores for companies to sell on Facebook. It has a network of more than 60,000 merchants using its self-serve technology. Payvment generally serves smaller clients while 8thBridge caters to small- and medium-sized businesses. According to a study released by Forrester Research, Facebook is more suitable for small retailers, niche products, or steeply discounted items. Most of the benefit that big retailers get from Facebook is branding their company but not actual purchases, Forrester further reports. Moreover, some products are inherently social such as books, DVDs, and event tickets, which have been successful because they are easy to buy and sell online.

 

How to Monetize Social Media: Use as a Retention Tool

Companies don't always need to use social media as a sales tool or to acquire news customers, says Turner; they can use it as a customer retention tool. If someone likes or follows your business, it's because they're interested in hearing from you on some regular basis. It's important that you have a routine schedule for your blogs, tweets, and postings. Keeping your fans and followers up to date on what's new and happening with your business or industry will keep them engaged with you and keep your brand top-of-mind.


Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.

Inc.

Poised for Growth

Posted by Inc. Oct 10, 2012

How investing time and resources effectively pays off in the long run


Business “overnight success” stories—the venture that skyrockets from a kitchen table project to millions in short order—seem to be everywhere. However, the truth is usually that fast growth is the result of excellent strategy, constant re-evaluation of core business areas, and careful reinvestment for growth.


“Specifically, business owners need to understand what I call their ‘Best and Highest Use.’ It’s a concept that effectively says, ‘Figure out what your company is best at doing, what they like doing, and what the marketplace has previously valued them for doing,’” says business growth consultant Andy Birol, founder of Birol Growth Consulting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Then, he adds, focus your investment of time and resources on those areas to accelerate the growth of your business.

 

The first step, says Terry Mackin, managing director of Generational Equity, a Dallas, Texas-based mergers and acquisitions consultancy, is to closely monitor cash flow and control costs, especially in areas that don’t contribute to the core functions of your business. Many companies have failed during times of economic downturn and uncertainty because they were not vigilant in cutting and controlling costs in proportion to the downturn in their businesses. As your business grows, you may find that some departments or sectors are duplicating efforts or that streamlining some functions may yield savings and efficiency, adds Birol. For example, moving all print production efforts through one central location can help your company negotiate better volume discounts than having varied accounts from different departments. As you determine which areas of your business are most profitable or yield the greatest results, adjust your annual budgets to support those key areas.

 

As they emerge from a difficult economic climate, businesses should also be looking at capital investments they have been delaying, says Robert S. Lee, business banking equipment finance executive at Leasing & Capital, LLC. Many companies have been conservative about making such investments or taking on new debt. However, he adds, strategic acquisition or leasing of equipment and assets that can improve efficiency and maximize productivity often yield significant savings, which can then be reinvested into the business for further growth. Lee helps guide his clients through the process of choosing whether to lease or purchase equipment, based on the long-term objectives of the business and the most cost-effective choice. That is often a carefully considered matrix of industry, business size and market, equipment type, and other factors.


“It is time to look at what your business needs to take advantage of growth opportunities as economic conditions improve. Investments made now can give your business an edge over companies that further delay capital investments,” he notes.

 

Most businesses need to make their technology and equipment investment a strategic part of their growth plan, says Mackin. Technology can be an important factor in preserving resources, managing inventory and materials, automating processes to reduce waste and enhance productivity, and it can even help bolster a business’s valuation. Automating as many functions as possible allows the time and salaries once spent on those areas to be redirected to other areas that will enhance the product or service, increase sales, or improve customer satisfaction—all areas that will further the business’ expansion.


“One of the first things buyers do when they come in and look at a business is to look at the technology,” he says.

 

Birol says other key investments include market research and customer service. Having a true, objective understanding of the marketplace and what your customers value about your business is essential in order to discover your business’s Best and Highest Use, he says. However, growing businesses may lose sight of their levels of service or the reasons customers rely on them. Investing time and resources into a comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) system, and evaluating sales and market data to uncover trends are critical as businesses grow. This data mining can predict market opportunities and help the business find areas that customers dislike, providing key information for the business to improve and become stronger. In addition, investing in the people and resources you need to provide top-notch customer service is essential, since keeping customers happy and engaged with your business costs far less, in most cases, than acquiring a new customer, he says.

By focusing on the core of the business, cutting non-essential expenses, and reinvesting in core functions, businesses can position themselves for growth even in difficult economic times, says Birol. And that repositioning will make them better able than their competition to seize upon growth opportunities when market conditions improve.

 

 

Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.

by April Joyner

 

Wading into the fast-moving flow of social media can be daunting to a small business owner with very little time on his hands. Here's Inc.'s comprehensive social media cheat sheet for the time-strapped entrepreneur.

 

White-in-article.jpg1. Offer a peek behind the scenes. Offering a sneak preview of new products, services, or features online can help build demand and provide critical feedback to help smooth the launch. For instance, John Doyle, founder of chocolate company John and Kira's in Philadelphia, posts photos of new products on Flickr and invites comments from customers.

 

2. Harness your expertise. Chances are your company's white paper won't go viral. But sharing knowledge you've gathered through your trade can go a long way toward boosting your brand. Ford Models, for instance, became a YouTube sensation through a series of videos that featured its models giving beauty and fashion tips.

 

3. Demonstrate what your company does. Because multimedia is so integral to social media, getting connected allows you to express your company's value proposition beyond words. To show just how powerful his company's blenders were, Blendtec's head of marketing, George Wright, created a series of videos showing the appliances churning up such diverse items as a rotisserie chicken, a Rubik's Cube, and an iPhone. The series' 100 million combined views helped boost Blendtec's sales by 700 percent.

 

4. Put your website's content to work. Want to draw more traffic to your website? Help spread the word by encouraging visitors to share content they enjoy. GotCast, a website that connects television casting directors with aspiring actors, draws new visitors by posting audition videos on Digg and allowing others to share video links on the site. One way to promote the sharing of your site's content is to install a widget, such as AddThis, that automates linking to popular sites.

 

5. Be candid. In unsure economic times, transparency goes a long way toward retaining and attracting customers. Giving readers the scoop on your company blog is an easy way to keep the lines of communication open. Giacomo Guilizzoni, the founder of San Francisco software company Balsamiq, even posts sales and profit figures to show that his company is on solid financial footing.

 

6. But be careful what you say about others. When Leslie Richard, owner of a North Carolina clothing company, described Vision Media Television as a "scam," she was slapped with a $20 million lawsuit. While recounting negative experiences with others won't necessarily lead to a court battle, it's best to steer clear of name-calling.

 

7. Interact with visitorsreally. Just putting up a blog or a Facebook fan page won't do much good if visitors sense the flow of conversation only goes one way. In fact, Matt Mullenweg, founder of blogging platform Wordpress, lists not participating in comments as a surefire way to kill a community. Mullenweg and his team field the many suggestions users have for Wordpress through his blog.

 

8. Don't try to create a stand-in for yourself. With all the other tasks required within your company, it's tempting to outsource managing your social media or even to try automating the process. That can easily backfire, as Joe Pulizzi, founder of Cleveland marketing firm Junta42, learned when he tried sending automated welcome messages to new followers on Twitter. His online contacts quickly called him out for sending out what they perceived to be spam.

 

9. Don't pretend to be someone else. Thanks to IP address tracking, observers can also quickly tell when company figureheads adopt fake identities for the sake of fluffing up their reputation. Not only can the practice hurt your company's reputation, it could also land you in legal trouble. The plastic surgery Lifestyle Lift had to pay $300,000 in settlement costs to the state of New York for having its employees post flattering reviews of the company without disclosing their affiliation.

 

10. Help employees bond. Corporations such as IBM have built in-house networks—even virtual worlds reminiscent of Second Life—to link employees working in different locations. Small and medium-sized businesses can take advantage of readily available tools to facilitate collaboration. The Hoffman Agency, a public relations firm, uses Ning, which enables users to build custom social networks, to connect its U.S. staff with employees in Europe and Asia.

 

11. Reward customer loyalty. Through social media, companies can not only run promotions more frequently than coupons in the mail will permit but also devise more whimsical and engaging campaigns. Sprinkles Cupcakes, a bakery chain based in Beverly Hills, California, uses Twitter to send out daily promotional offers. The tweets, which ask customers to whisper a "password" to receive a free treat, have helped the company draw more than 17,000 followers.

 

12. See what people are saying about you. A quick search for mentions of your company on Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp can yield a goldmine of information concerning your reputation. Several users on Yelp, for instance, suggested that employees at Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago were less than welcoming. After reading the comments, owner Eric Kirsammer focused on improving customer service. Applications such as monitter and Trackur can help you keep track of the conversation across the Web.

 

13. Make amends with dissatisfied customers, quickly. Andy Carlson, owner of an Ace Hardware store in Denver, once came across an angry Twitter update from a customer who had bought a tool that broke after one use. He resolved the issue in a matter of minutes by referring the customer to an area store and notified him of Ace's lifetime guarantee. Best of all, he was able to catch the complaint after store hours—and prevent negative word of mouth.

 

14. Don't go on the defensive. A harsh rebuke of your business on sites like Yelp can not only bruise your ego but also hurt your livelihood. But resist the temptation to lash out in public. Sarah Dunbar, owner of Oakland vintage boutique Pretty Penny, privately responds to less-than-flattering reviewers and encourages them to visit her in person. And keep in mind that you can't please everyone. After Dunbar wrote to one dissatisfied customer, the reviewer accused her of conducting "shady business" by trying to sway opinions.

 

15. Keep customers in the loop. Frequently on the go? Twitter can help your customers keep track of your latest destination. Kogi Korean BBQ, which operates a food cart in Los Angeles, keeps its Twitter followers constantly informed of its location on the street. The real-time updates help Kogi keep up demand, as customers line up in advance at the broadcasted locations.

 

16. Find potential customers. A quick keyword search can help you find prospective customers who may not be aware of your company but could nonetheless benefit from your product or service. Bob Scaglion, a senior managing director at New York real-estate management company Rose Associates, generates 100 leads per month on Twitter for his company simply by replying to users whose tweets include phrases such as "moving to New York City" and "no-fee rentals."

 

17. Reach more markets. Social media can help your company reach multiple markets at a time. Restaurant chain Boloco focuses most of its advertising on Boston, which houses 13 out of its 16 locations. But as an experiment, CEO John Pepper decided to post a copy of a coupon from a local newspaper on Twitter in order to reach customers in Vermont and New Hampshire. Coupon redemptions increased by more than 150 percent as a result.

 

18. Target your online advertising. Both Facebook and MySpace allow businesses to run ads that attract specific groups of users based on what information they include in their profiles. By running Facebook ads targeted at students at specific colleges, StorQuest Self Storage, which has locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Hawaii, increased its number of rentals by more than half.

 

19. See where your customers are. A growing number of social networks are designed specifically for users on the go, and some, such as the mobile application Foursquare, offer tools specifically for businesses. Frozen dessert chain Tasti D-Lite, for instance, uses Foursquare to gather data on how many people visit its locations and send promotional offers to frequent customers.

 

20. Let customers help each other out. Including a customer forum on your website or social network profile can help enhance your customer service while building a sense of community. At Poolcenter.com, a swimming pool equipment retailer based in Arlington, Virginia, customers often field each other's inquiries on swimming pool equipment before they reach customer service reps. Get Satisfaction and Fixya are two sites that offer dedicated spaces for customer service forums.

 

21. Build a community beyond your business. Photo hosting site SmugMug has established itself as a resource for skilled photographers in part by operating a forum, Digital Grin, where members trade advice on topics such as the best techniques for taking photos at night and capturing wedding scenes. With the exception of a support section at the very bottom, the forum is devoted to photography at large, rather than the company's own services.

 

22. Let customers contribute. FrontPoint Security, a home security provider in McLean, Virginia, began collecting video testimonials from its customers, who filmed themselves with Flip cameras. The videos are posted on FrontPoint's site and on YouTube, and even some customers' personal blogs. FrontPoint's video efforts have helped the company more than triple its sales leads.

 

23. Help others promote you. Social media can help you find passionate customers who are more than willing to spread the word about your company. Crafts supplies manufacturer Fiskars reached out to scrapbookers by inviting four avid users to blog. Its crafts community, called Fiskateers, has since attracted 5,000 users who serve as brand evangelists.

 

24. Cultivate relationships that lead to sales. Soon after he joined Twitter, J.R. Cohen, manager of The Coffee Groundz, a Houston coffee shop, began encouraging his followers to visit him in his shop. He began getting to know customers so well that they not only initiated conversations with him through Twitter—they began tweeting orders through the site as well. Now Cohen periodically fields menu requests through Twitter, though he doesn't use the page primarily for that purpose.

 

25. But don't promote too aggressively. While social network users have proven to be open to marketing—especially if it involves a discount—they're not flocking to Facebook or MySpace to hear sales pitches. If your profile or blog reads like an ad, it will turn visitors away. Kent Lewis, founder of Portland online marketing firm Anvil Media, encourages Twitter users, for instance, to pass along industry news and retweet interesting items from others along with their own promotions.

 

26. Find ways to engage visitors offline. In March, Cinda Baxter, a retail consultant in Minneapolis, ended a blog post on local business with one simple idea: choose three businesses to support, and spend a combined amount of $50 per month. The post spurred hundreds of inquiries—enough for Baxter to build a standalone website, which has since attracted the support of more than 12,000 businesses. Baxter has used the publicity to bolster her consulting business: she now travels nationwide to advise retailers on building support within their communities.

 

27. Find influential people in your industry. In addition to maintaining your blog, make sure to keep your eyes open to what others in the industry are buzzing about online. Reading independent blogs and joining industry groups on Facebook and LinkedIn is a good way to join the larger conversation. Spoonflower, a fabric design site based in Mebane, North Carolina, has built its community of more than 40,000 users primarily through word of mouth on crafts blogs.

 

28. Boost your credibility by helping others. For service providers, establishing yourself as an expert in the field can bring in a steady stream of business. LinkedIn's Answers feature enables business owners to do just that. Heidi Cool, a Web design consultant in Cleveland, browses LinkedIn Answers for inquiries related to her industry and spends one to two hours per week answering them. In one month, she generated 29 leads for her services directly from her responses.

 

29. Look for talent off the beaten path. While LinkedIn is specifically geared toward professional use, some companies have found other social networks to be effective recruiting tools as well. Jason Averbrook, CEO of the management-consulting firm Knowledge Infusion, found 19 candidates in two days for an open position simply by writing about his search in status updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Plaxo, which aggregates contact information from social networks.

 

30. Connect with potential partners. Because LinkedIn is designed specifically for professional networking, businesses can find a host of valuable contacts there. Josh Steinitz, CEO of NileGuide, a trip planning website based in San Francisco, used LinkedIn to find business partners by identifying companies of interest and then asking his existing contacts to provide introductions. A third of the company's inquiries resulted in eventual partnerships.

 

 

 

Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.

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by Geoffrey James

 

It's easy to burn through a budget with these big-ticket items. There's a better way to spend your cash.

 

There are a dozen ways to spending a marketing budget unwisely, but the following three line items are probably the worst offenders. Steer clear of all three--or, better yet, make a tweak to transform them from money-wasters into moneymakers,

 

1. Vendor-Focused Trade Shows

There are only two reasons to attend a trade show: 1) to generate sales leads or 2) to close existing opportunities. Both goals are impossible to achieve if neither customers nor potential customers attend the trade show.

 

For example, I know a guy who spent $100,000 for a booth at a trade show and got only 132 "sales leads." And all but 22 of those "leads" were people from other vendors who were looking for a new job.

 

In order to convince companies to pay for booth space, trade show companies tend to provide misleading Waste-moneyl.pngattendee statistics--and sometimes threaten to make your non-attendance into a PR disaster.

  • Smarter strategy: Insist that every trade show investment be matched by a reasonable financial return, in the form of sales leads that eventually generate revenue. If you're not confident the trade show will more than pay for itself, don't attend.

 

2. Brand Awareness Campaigns

Your brand is important.  However, unless you're selling a mass-market consumer product and willing to spend many millions on advertising, it is your products and services that will create your brand--not your marketing activity.

I once watched a company spend $1 billion in brand marketing over a five-year period, while continuing to make products that fewer people wanted to buy. Their marketing collateral was gorgeous, but they went out of business.

 

The truth is that brochures, websites, videos, and advertisements aimed at raising "brand awareness" are usually a waste of money.  There's just too much "brand spam" floating around for anyone to take notice.

  • Smarter strategy: Set goals for and measure every marketing activity by whether (and how well) it creates sales leads or shortens the sales cycle. In other words, treat marketing activity as tactical, rather than strategic.


3. Bogus Market Research

Market research can give you an accurate snapshot of what your customers are thinking and feeling, providing that research is quantitative, statistically valid, and independent of a hidden agenda.

 

Unfortunately, most market research is qualitative, statistically invalid, and/or skewed to a foregone conclusion. "Focus groups," for instance, tell you nothing except what a small group of people think.

 

Similarly, most polls only test people who have already shown enough interest to agree to take the poll.  Furthermore, "independent" research firms, when hired by vendors, usually know ahead of time what findings are desired and adjust the research to fit.

  • Smarter strategy: Rather than waste money on custom market research, compile and contrast publicly available data that's gathered without a specific agenda--such as government statistics or market research aimed at a broader vendor audience.

 

 

Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.

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