Bull Horns in Cyberspace, Part 2

On Wednesday, I began a discussion of things we can do to attract attention to our blogs, and some of the mistakes I have made over the past six months as a blogger. Today I will conclude this topic with Part 2 of Bull Horns in Cyberspace.

Here are my thoughts and suggestions for today:

Find your style. A little trick I have learned that seems to work well is to study a new marketing tool, process, etc., and then write about what I learned. For example, I recently wrote a three-part article called Twelve Things I Learned about SlideShare. I write from the point of view of reporting what I know at the end of the process that I wish I had known at the start. I offer advice to those considering using the same tool, and discuss how to be more effective in communicating their message to an ever-widening audience.

Use other social media to promote your blog. I always post summaries of blog posts on Facebook, Twitter and occasionally LinkedIn. Facebook allows a 420 character article summary, LinkedIn 700. Always leave room for a hyperlink to your blog. Consider using a URL shortener like https://bitly.com/ if you are pressed for space. This is even more important to accommodate Twitter’s 140-character limit. Abbreviated versions of three or four articles are also featured in my monthly newsletter, which is distributed free through MailChimp to over 700 people. Finally, I am having some encouraging preliminary results by posting entire articles on SlideShare.net.

Do not overlook the value of paper in promoting your blog. Add your web address to business cards, print media ads, Yellow Page listings (you remember those, right?), letterheads, email signatures and so on. If you really want to go high tech, add a Quick Response Code to allow smartphone users to find your blog easily. For more information on QR Codes, see our March 25 blog post “More Thoughts on Business Cards” at http://bit.ly/i5ikHc.

Encourage reader feedback and sharing. When readers post comments (positive or otherwise), thank them for their effort. I only delete spam, an inevitable byproduct of blogging. I have recently become more active in soliciting feedback. I now periodically end posts by asking readers for their comments, suggestions and criticisms. I also invite suggestions for future articles. Finally, make sure your blog has plug-ins or widgets to promote article sharing through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other social media vehicle you believe is likely to help capture your target markets. Allow readers to bookmark your URL to their list of favorite sites with the click of a button.

So let me end there, by inviting you to post your thoughts on CFO America’s blog. What do you like? What do you dislike? Keep it clean and I promise to approve it. Most importantly, what can I do to make the information presented more useful to you in growing a prosperous business?

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2

On Friday, I began a discussion of things I learned about SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Since that time, my seven files have had more than 3,400 combined views, 2,800 for one file alone.

I shared the first three items on my list. They discussed how to start your profile, upgrade options and social media connections. Part 2 will discuss suggestions for making SlideShare an integral part of your marketing efforts. Here is today’s list:

4. I preach a simple 12-word marketing strategy to clients and friends. It is this: Communicate one message, promoting one brand, to multiple audiences, at no cost. While Friday’s item #3 fully supports this strategy, do not stop there! I issued three free press releases (one of which can be viewed at http://bit.ly/ipIFnF), published this information using several free article marketing websites and periodically retweet links to the presentations.

5. The first slide of a PowerPoint presentation or the first page of a pdf document will appear as a small icon link on your profile page. It should be readable, attractive and descriptive to invite viewers. I display my logo and blog URL on every download. You will also be asked to provide a description, category and tags for each file. Making this information keyword rich makes it easier for interested views to locate you slide shows and videos. Making something keyword rich simply means using certain words and phrases that potential customers are likely to use in search engines when looking for your company, products or  services.

6. SlideShare gives users the option of allowing viewers to download files. Since you are posting files in a very public venue, I see no reason not to allow downloads. Additionally, presentations can be made available only to authorized viewers with any of the upgraded versions. It is then a viable option to share private files that are simply too large to email. An example might be a large contract or proposal in pdf format.

If you do not know how to create a pdf file, download CutePDF Writer at http://cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp. It is a free version of commercial PDF creation software. CutePDF Writer installs itself as a printer subsystem. This enables virtually any Windows applications to create professional quality pdf documents.

7. SlideShare can be used to promote and support your event marketing efforts. For example, you can make advanced copies of upcoming seminars available online to help invitees decide whether to attend, or provide copies to interested parties who are unable to attend.

8. Users and their followers can post additional information on their wall, very similar to Facebook. I posted a notice of a free seminar based on one of my uploaded files, along with a link to EventBrite for event details. Viewers can also post comments on individual slide shows.

Please return Wednesday when we not only complete the list of 12 things I learned, but will reveal the final two Chinese proverbs.

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 1

“May you live in interesting times” is the English translation of the first of three Chinese proverbs. These are very interesting times indeed for business owners struggling to market their products and services without simultaneously emptying their bank account. It seems not a week goes by that I do not learn about another free or (almost as good) low-cost marketing tool on the Internet.

This week was no exception! CFO America opened an account at SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Users can upload files in PowerPoint and pdf formats, among others. It is comparable to YouTube, but is primarily for slideshows. Launched in 2006, the website was originally intended as a vehicle for businesses to share slides with employees. However, it has since expanded to host slides and videos for entertainment, educational and other purposes.

SlideShare claims 50 million visitors and 90 million page views per month, ranking it as one of the top 250 websites in the world. The White House used SlideShare to publish President Obama’s birth certificate in
April 2011. The impressive list of blue ribbon users also includes NASA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IBM, several branches of the U.S. military, Dell and the University of Texas.

Today I present the first of a three-part series on this subject. I will cover the basics of how to get started and how to increase your market exposure. I will complete the series next week.

Here are the first three things I learned about SlideShare that will help you “Avoid Market Obscurity“:

  1. Begin your exciting marketing experience by opening a free account at http://www.slideshare.net/. You will be asked to create a public profile that includes a description of your business, address and contact information, logo or picture, website link, industry, keyword tags, and other basic information. Start by visiting CFO America’s profile at http://www.slideshare.net/CFOAmerica.
  2. Like most “free” online services, this one has several upgraded versions. They range in price from $19 to $249 per month. The extra fees buy customized channels, expanded functionality, visitor analytics and the removal of banner ads, among other advantages. All upgrades include Zipcast, a virtual meeting service similar to the better-known and admittedly more robust GoToMeeting. The advantage is that subscribers receive a customized link to share with their attendees. Those attendees merely click the link without the need to download software or open a SlideShare account. Regular readers already know my advice on this one! Even if these features appeal to you, I suggest you resist the urge to upgrade until after you have had an opportunity to evaluate your experience over the first thirty to ninety days. You may find the additional cost is unnecessary. I should add that the free service includes unlimited slide shows and documents, plus three videos per month.
  3. SlideShare collaborates with social media giants Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote and share content. For example, you can embed presentations on your Facebook Fan Page, your LinkedIn profile or your blog. I embedded a document on my Fan Page, a simple matter of coping and pasting a code supplied by SlideShare. The document can now be opened in full screen. Viewers can also like, retweet or otherwise
    share presentations with their followers and connections.

Three of my PowerPoint presentations had over 200 combined views during their first 3 days online. One of my pdf documents (a reprint of this article) was featured on SlideShare’s home page, and was viewed over 1,500 times during its first 36 hours online. I am confident this activity, which puts to shame my YouTube statistics, was largely the result of the other social media services. Take full advantage of these capabilities for maximum market exposure.

Have a great weekend, and please plan to read Twelve Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2 on Monday. As an added incentive to returning readers, next week I will share the final two Chinese proverbs.

Surely you won’t want to miss that!

Nine Things I learned about YouTube-Part 2

Wednesday’s blog post discussed the first four things I learned about creating YouTube videos. It covered hardware and software requirements, and their cost. I hope you were as surprised as I was to learn you don’t have to spend a lot of money, and may already have everything you need.

Today, I will complete the list. Here are items 5 through 9:

5. Windows Live Movie maker or WLMM allows you to import entire PowerPoint presentations or individual slides. This is useful if your video subject matter is technical and requires visual aids. It is far more professional than writing on a flipchart with your back to the camera. The trick is to save documents as png or tif files, rather than in PowerPoint. The software also imports pictures. You can then narrate off-screen, or just use them to spice up your video.

6. Whether you import videos, slides or pictures, MLMM presents a plethora of editing options. I found the ability to end videos before that awkward moment when I walk off-screen to stop the camera is especially helpful. For that reason, stand motionless and silent for one or two seconds before you end a video or slide. It will make for a cleaner break as you transition into the next slide. The standard length of a slide will be 7 seconds, but that is easily changed to accommodate your need. There are also countless video and animation special effects, which I have yet to explore. One feature that I do plan to incorporate into my next video is captions. I might, as an example, include my web address or contact information in the presentation.

7. You can record narrations with Sound Recorder, and match them with the appropriate slide. If you are a type-A person as I am, concentrate on speaking at a moderate pace. Again, you can edit the duration, adjust the volume and fade in and out of the audio. You can also import music.

8. One feature of WLMM did surprise and disappoint me. Perhaps I missed something, but my computer saved the videos into something called a wlmp file format. YouTube supports a wide variety of formats, but wlmp is not among them. After a little research and experimentation, I discovered some good news. You can upload directly from WLMM to YouTube by simply clicking the appropriate “Share Button” in the upper right Toolbar. I found a technical explanation of why this works, but who cares? Problem solved!

9. Finally, once you have successfully uploaded your finished video, keep in mind that YouTube allows you to do some basic Search Engine Optimization or SEO. It allows a description and tags. As always, make them keyword rich. Fred Campos, the founder of FunCitySocialMedia, suggests you include your company’s name in video titles. Since the end game is to have people locate and watch you videos, do not over-look this important step.

Well, that’s my list. I hope you will find something of use here, and more importantly that it will encourage you to pursue more of the low-cost marketing experimentation I talked so much about in my book. If you would like to see CFO America ShiningStar Studio’s (a wholly owned subsidiary of just plain old CFO America) premiere video, please visit http://bit.ly/lx8ard.

Have a great weekend, and thanks to all the faithful readers who have so kindly posted comments and words of encouragement on this blog. Please continue to spread the word!

Nine Things I learned about YouTube-Part 1

A few weeks ago, having recently published Highly Visible Marketing, I had a guilt-stricken moment. You know the experience, the one where you suddenly realize you’re not following
the very advice you so freely give to others. In my case, it was driven by having advocated YouTube as a free marketing tool in your social media arsenal, something I had yet to do myself. Having resolved to “practice what I preach” I published my first YouTube video yesterday. The experience was so cathartic that I decided to blog about it.

Frankly,  my video has yet to snag an Academy Award nomination for best cinematography or sound editing. I am especially disappointed at being ignored for Best Costume, given that I wore a freshly laundered shirt. However, I did learn a few things in the process that might save you time and money, and might encourage readers to “take the plunge” into producing their own YouTube videos.

Today, I’ll share the first four things I learned, those dealing with required hardware and software, and how much you can expect to spend. Here is today’s list:

  1. I began my YouTube adventure expecting to spend several hundred dollars to get the hardware and software I’d need. That did not prove to be necessary. I initially explored several software packages that would provide basic editing capabilities. Each had a price tag of around $100. It turns out my Windows operating system already had two pieces of software that provide all the functionality I need. Unless you fancy yourself as the Steven Spielberg of social media, so does yours! They are Windows Live Movie Maker (“WLMM”) and Sound Recorder.
  2. Although most computers have a built in microphone, the audio from mine sounded muffled and distant. I invested $15 in a basic headset (available at any big-box store that sells computers or audio equipment), which although far from perfect, greatly enhanced the sound quality.
  3. You will need a video camera to complete the full range of input options you’ll want. Almost any digital camera or cell phone will work, but video quality and ease of uploading to your computer can be issues. I initially planned to buy a Cisco Flip video camera, the preferred camera of most people I know who are active on YouTube. I quickly learned this brand has been discontinued. Instead, I bought a comparable Sony Bloggie camera for $149. One word of advice is to make sure your camera has a tripod mount.
  4. Finally, I also bought a mid-range web camera, which was on sale for $15. This tool could replace the need for a microphone and a video camera. However, I found the sound and video quality both somewhat lacking. More significantly, I would be forever tied to filming in front of my computer. With a son in the military and the free availability of Skype (an awesome product I plan to discuss at length in my next book), the money was still well spent.

On Friday, I will discuss the final five items. I’ll see you then! In the meantime, locate WLMM and Sound Recorder on your computer and start drafting that first script!

Web-based Sales Platforms – Part 3

First, let me say that this picture of the Prince William and his new bride has absolutely nothing to do with today’s blog post on web-based sales platforms. Although having been awoken at 3 AM to watch the ceremony live, I probably look and feel like the little girl on the left; cranky, tired and a little out of sorts!

On Wednesday, I discussed Groupon, the largest and most popular “deal of the day” company. Like eBay, Groupon also has its detractors. If the economics or mechanics of Groupon simply do not work for your business, you are not alone. However, you may have cost effective alternatives readily available. Groupon is quickly gaining new competition. An article in the April 25, 2011 edition of Forbes Focus by Brendan Coffey estimated Groupon has 425 “me-too” competitors, and suggested that future competition may include Facebook and Google. Groupon rejected a $6 billion buy-out offer from Google in December of 2010.

While I have not evaluated specific vendors, here are several options you may wish to explore on your own.

  • Some cities and regions are creating websites to distribute coupons and advertise specials to promote local businesses, and typically at a lower net cost than the big-name national sites. I was pleased to see several such sites advertise on television during a visit to the Central Coast region of California. As an example, look at www.slocoupons.com. It promotes commerce in San Luis Obispo County. Search the Internet and ask your network contacts for comparable programs in your area.
  • Socialdish.com is scheduled to launch in March 2011, so its ultimate success has yet to be determined as of this writing. However, what makes it worth watching is that it is structured as a multilevel marketing program. It will distribute 30% of its fees through 10 levels of “downlines” as people recruit their friends and family. The limited information available at this time indicates Socialdish’s charges to advertisers will be less than Groupon.
  • LivingSocial.com is another “deal-of-the-day” type competitor to Groupon. This company was partially financed by the online retail juggernaut Amazon.

On Monday, I will discuss several more Internet websites that allow you to promote your services or locate potential clients at little or no cost.

In the meantime, best wishes to the Royal couple. If you are ever in North Texas, stop over. We’ll throw some red meat on the grill and I’ll tell you all about the War of 1812. And if you have any questions on marketing, I can tackle those too. Kate, I understand you family runs a small business. Who handles your finances?

Internet Marketing for Small Business-Part 1

Businesses have long used the Internet as a one-way communication channel to inform and educate customers about their products, prices, locations and hours. One-way communication is no longer sufficient, even for small businesses.

Here are some ideas to expand the traditional and limited marketing role of the Internet for your business without exceeding your budget limitations.

To increase sales and improve service, businesses should offer interactive capabilities for customers to place orders, make inquiries, request bids, and download product catalogs and service manuals. Many businesses now use the Internet to allow patients and clients to book or change their own appointments. It can be a very useful tool to help reduce lost revenue by sending an email or text message to confirm scheduled appointments. Online customer access need not be a cost prohibitive luxury viable only for “big box” retailers and national catalog companies. Multiple studies confirm it is a necessity for many types of small businesses. For example:

  • In an October 18, 2010 article titled A Cheery Holiday Forecast, Thad Rueter of the Internet Retailer reported on the results of a survey by The National Retail Federation. The survey found 44% of consumers ages 18 and above planned to shop online during the 2010 Christmas season. Of consumers who earned at least $50,000, 55% would shop online. Perhaps more telling of emerging trends, 27% of U.S. consumers who own a smartphone were expected to use it to research and buy products.
  • An article titled 8 Ways Fullservice Operators Can Build Sales was published by the National Restaurant Association in their 2010 Restaurant Industry Outlook Forecast. It reported that 41% of consumers sur­veyed said they choose new restaurants because of e-mail promotions. Close to 30% said they would likely opt to receive e-mail notification of daily specials. Another 56% visit restaurant websites, 54% view restaurant menus, 54% use the Internet to learn about restaurants they have not patronized while 25% have made reservations online.

If your business uses or is considering using gift cards, look at Panera Bread and McAlister’s Deli websites. Both offer the ability to sell, recharge and check card balances online, a real customer convenience. Providing printable coupons online is an even easier customer benefit you can offer.

On Friday, I will discuss email marketing and surveys as a marketing tool for your business.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 7

I conclude this seven-part discussion of social media marketing today with just a few closing thoughts. First, having gone through the effort to develop content, create a social media marketing program and build a following, do not fail to promote Twitter, Facebook etc. on outgoing email signatures, business cards, letterhead, websites, and promotional materials.

Every media platform should be used to promote all the others. For example, you should occasionally send a tweet inviting followers to “Like” your Facebook Fan page, and use Facebook and Twitter to announce new posts on your blog.

Provide a direct link to your blog and social media platforms whenever possible. For example, my outgoing email signature ends with, “Please click on the links below to read our blog or to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.”

This series presented many new challenges for the already overworked small businessperson. Let me end with one more. Future Vision Web Services made this observation: “Most of today’s market leaders are those companies who had the foresight to recognize the changing landscape in today’s modern business world. The new business battleground has been very cruel to those companies that have fallen behind the curve.”

Do not allow the rapidly evolving landscape of social media marketing keep you from realizing the full potential of your business.

See you again on Wednesday.

Word-of-Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 6

Even if you use outside assistance to design and develop your social media platforms, generating fresh content remains your responsibility. Quite simply, no one knows more about your business than you do. Demonstrate that fact by sharing the body of material you accumulated in becoming a recognized expert. However, resist the temptation to share it all at once. Building a following in cyberspace is a marathon, not a sprint. As with blogging, develop a consistent conversational style and reporting pattern.

Here are a few pointers to get the most social media mileage out of your content and maximize its effectiveness:

  • If you have a document with multiple bullet points, break each into a separate post.
  • End each post by briefly telling readers what to expect in your next entry, and when it will be published.
  • Most content can be reformatted and repurposed as appropriate. For example, press releases and articles can be posted on Facebook and other sites as well as your blog. A 1,200-word article can provide a lot of content at 140 characters per tweet. Facebook status update fields have a 420-character limit. LinkedIn has a 700-character limit. Other social networks each have similar limits. With a little practice, you will probably find, as I did, that communicating your message within those limits is usually quite easy to accomplish.
  • You can supplement your original content with relevant quotes and articles written by others, or simply pass along helpful advice and suggestions you come across in your daily business. Numerous websites provide extensive quotes on every business subject. One example is www.brainyquote.com.
  • Timely material can be re-circulated or retweeted periodically.
  • Unless supporting a particular point of view is a deliberate part of your branding and marketing strategy, avoid expressing religious and political opinions or supporting controversial agendas that might alienate potential customers.
  • Have several people proofread and review your content. Check your pride of authorship at the door. Do not be afraid to use someone who will look you in the eye and tell you if you have “an ugly baby.” My son’s unbridled desire to correct his father makes him an extremely effective proofreader. Another friend’s frank comments often bruise my ego. I typically stew about them for a day, and then incorporate most of his suggestions.
  • No one cares about trivial matters like what you ate for dinner unless of course you are a food critic or Kim Kardashian. Maintain an air of business decorum and professionalism in your social media platforms.
  • There are numerous social networking tools available free online to help you monitor and simultaneously update multiple sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Those tools currently include Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Ping.fm. Most also provide upgraded versions for a fee. It is a truism of any free-market system that whenever a product or service becomes an undifferentiated commodity, those offering it can only compete on price. It is inevitable in the fast-paced world of social media that as soon as someone develops a new Internet-based service, someone else will figure out how to make money by offering it free. Therefore, periodically ask your social media active friends and network contacts whether they are aware of any new tools.
  • Finally, the ultimate purpose of social media marketing is to build business relationships. All relationships require two-way communication. Do not get so consumed in posting content that you neglect to respond to direct messages or DMs. Try to establish a dedicated time every day to answer your DMs.

I will conclude this series about social media marketing on Monday with some final thoughts. Enjoy your weekend.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 5

I confess that I have yet to add YouTube to my social media marketing arsenal. That is probably to my detriment. Although you can post pictures and links to videos on most social media platforms, YouTube is specifically designed as a video sharing site. Many people therefore think of it primarily as a source of entertainment. However, YouTube is also the most popular search engine. The company was founded in 2005 and bought by Google in 2006. YouTube reported an excess of 2 billion downloads per day in May of 2010.

YouTube is free, and has many practical applications for small businesses. You can prepare and upload amateur videos with most cell phones and digital cameras. Here are four YouTube tips:

  • If you believe a picture is worth a thousand words, YouTube videos may be priceless. Your videos can be used to demonstrate your products in action, showcase samples of your work, record customer testimonials, address frequently asked questions and serve almost any customer educational purpose that arises. Videos can be made more user-friendly and accessible through the auto-caption feature added in early 2010. Captions can then be translated into other languages. This means the hearing-impaired and non-English speaking audiences will have access to the information and marketing messages contained in your videos.
  • YouTube allows users to set up personal channels or home pages. This affords the opportunity to present video messages in a customized environment consistent with your brand’s use of colors, logos, marketing taglines and so on. The channel can also display user data including contact information, web addresses and pictures. Finally, users can organize videos in logical groups or sequences through playlists.
  • Use your other social media outlets to cross-promote YouTube videos.
  • Again, study what your competition is doing on YouTube. Look at a few viral or most popular videos to see what characteristics make them popular. Adapt the lessons learned to your own situation.

On Friday, I will continue this series with some suggestions on getting the most social media mileage out of your content while maximizing its effectiveness.

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