Guest post by Mike Consol
So you put a new business plan together for 2010. Whether your enterprise is big or small - and regardless of industry - you almost certainly discussed Social Media.
It's the most talked about and misunderstood business activity around. It's also one of the few business initiatives that companies are still spending on - for good reason. It can lower the cost of doing business and improve outcomes. A recent Web 2.0 survey by the legendary management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that two-thirds of respondents reported "measurable" benefits from the use of Web 2.0 technologies.
- Lower communication and travel costs
- More effective marketing
- Higher customer satisfaction
Those Web 2.0 technologies include blogging, video, wikis and RSS feeds, among others.
Wait a minute, you might be saying at this point, where are the references to Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and YouTube? And what the devil are wikis and RSS feeds?
Don't even worry about wikis and RSS feeds at this stage of the game. It's blogging that we will concentrate on in this article, because blogging is the centerpiece of sensible Social Media campaigns.
It's all fine and well to have business accounts with Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn and MySpace, but what information do you feed to them? What can you really do with a 140-character Twitter message if you don't have a link that takes readers somewhere meaningful to them and profitable for you?
Granted, other Social Media sites give you plenty of space to tout your business, but who are you going to bet on? The first big Social Media site was MySpace. It is now in fast decline, losing members at a torrid pace. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were hardly a mention a few years ago and are now Social Media's 800-pound gorillas. But what about a few years from now? Will they suffer the same fate as MySpace, as social networkers migrate on to swankier new sites?
That's very likely, which is why you don't want to make those sites the flagship of your Social Media outreach. If you build a major reservoir of content about your company on Facebook, how do you transfer all that data over to the hot, new, emerging Social Media site? That's a problem. That's a hassle. And we all try to minimize business problems and hassles.
Do this instead: Create a company blog integrated into your website, and use that as the centerpiece of your Social Media campaign. It has lots of advantages. As Patrick Schwerdtfeger points out in his excellent book Webify Your Business, search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo favor blogs.
Here's why. Search engines hunt for three primary things when assessing the value of a website:
- The quantity of unique, relevant content
- The newness or freshness of that content
- The link structure surrounding the website
Blogs cater to all three of these metrics. Bottom line: As you consistently add relevant content to your blog and, hence, your website, it will climb up the search-engine rankings. That means more people searching for information about your products, services or industry will find your website, blog and company.
Now that you're creating blog content, use the dozens of Social Media sites that exist to blast that content out to the world. Yes, that's right, I said dozens. Most people are familiar with the big five sites but have never heard of Social Media sites such as Yammer, Vox, Shout'em, LiveJournal, Jaiku, Plurk, Bebo and many others.
To give you some idea, I send my blog posts to more than 30 Social Media sites.
Right about now you're probably freaking at the thought of managing a constellation of Social Media sites. Set down the valium. It's not as difficult as it sounds. Registering for all these sites can eat up an entire day. But you can population those sites in one fell swoop by using a site like Ping.fm. Ping allows you to post and send a message one time through its interface - then Ping automatically posts your message on the dozens of Social Media sites where you've opened accounts.
And, yes, all of these sites are free.
So, for example, if you own a jewelry store you might write a blog article that explains how lay people can tell the difference between a diamond and a cubic zirconia. Because sites like Twitter and Shout'em restrict messages to 140 characters, you might compose a Social Media message that says: "A diamond is a woman's best friend and a CZ her worst enemy. Here's how to tell the difference http://tinyurl.com/yk4bv2t."
Peak the reader's interest with an enticing teaser, then give them the link to your blog article to learn what you have to teach. Your blog's URL is likely to eat up many of those precious 140 characters, so use TinyURL or Bit.ly and other similar sites to shrink it down to size. Ping automatically shortens your URL to economize on space.
Although using Ping or similar web services solves the issue of having to deal with too many Social Media sites on a one-by-one basis, the bigger issue is blogging. Many businesspeople find themselves at a loss for subject matter. If you run a frozen yogurt shop then, yeah, you're probably not going to find enough topics to write a year's worth of blog posts, let alone keep the blog running strong for the next five or 10 years.
Lesson one, blogging and Social Media are not for every business. If you cannot create oodles of content about your business, industry and related matters you won't be able to sustain let alone interest people in your blog.
Lesson two, you probably have more to write about than you think. Make your blog personal. Write about yourself. Write about your customers. Write about your employees. Remember, a blog posting can run from just a few paragraphs to thousands of words. Just make sure it's interesting, educational or engaging so readers subscribe and stick with your blog.
Lesson three, blogging and Social Media are long-term commitments. Don't even expect to start seeing results for at least six months, though a year is more realistic. Over the course of years the blog really starts to do some heavy lifting for your business because the content has been piling up and the search engines are directing people to your site with increased frequency. Then again, if you don't have the stamina or discipline to write two or three blog posts a week for the rest of your business career you better have the budget to pay someone to do the work for you.
No, it doesn't take a full-time person to blog and manage your Social Media sites. Yes, you could easily employ two full-time people if you worked all the available internet channels and best practices. You don't have to do it all to get results. Just do it and do it consistently.
There are a million things to know about blogging and its intersection with the Social Media world. That goes way beyond the scope of this article, which is why I recommend you get a copy of the aforementioned book Webify Your Business and follow blogging hotshots like Denise Wakeman, who has a free five-part video course on business blogging, and Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, whose articles include one titled Blogging Tips for Beginners. To learn lots about Social Media visit Mashable often and check out its guides to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
You'll be surprised how quickly expertise is assimilated and you're blogging and working the Social Media channels.
As Denise Wakeman is fond of saying, Blog on!
Mike Consol is president of MikeConsol.com, which provides business writing seminars, Web 2.0 strategies and media training. Consol spent 17 years with American City Business Journals, the nation's largest publisher of metropolitan business journals with 40 weekly newspapers across the United States.