New Facebook Ads Up the Social Ante

Recently,  I taught a business plan writing class and one of my students,  a talented home baker originally from Mexico who specializes in Latin American confections  (her pecan balls are wonderful!)  and wants to upgrade her hobby into a formal licensed pastry catering business,   spoke of her business promotion success with Facebook and Twitter.  On her personal Facebook page,  Mariela utilizes the Fan page for her cakes and other desserts,  featuring attractive photos of the goodies.  Additionally,  she tweets maybe three times a day about what she’s making for the parties she sometimes caters,  new recipes she’s trying out or other baking topics.

To her great surprise,  Mariela received a response to her tweets from an employee of a huge US sugar company,  who tweeted to ask whose sugar she uses when baking  (she does use that company’s sugar).  Also,  a popular local blog in her town tweeted to ask if they could write an article about her.  So maybe it’s time to take another look at your social media strategy and think about how the benefits of Facebook and Twitter might help you get on the radar screens of prospective clients who would ordinarily be beyond your reach?

To grease the wheels of that process,  Facebook will soon announce a new premium ad format that will radically transform traditional online banner advertising and replace it with ads that potentially will become  “conversations” about the advertised product or service.  According to sources with inside information,  Facebook will make the new ads social by allowing Friends of the advertiser to Like the ad and make comments. 

The new Facebook banner ads will not exclusively contain the usual content written by the business and reading like a commercial,  but also endorsements personally written by Friends of the business,  who know and trust the products or services being touted.  These exciting new ads promise to be personal and active,  not finite and static.

When page visitors view an ad and decide to click the Like button or enter a comment in response,  those actions will be added to both the advertiser’s page and to the News Feeds of the poster’s and advertiser’s Friends.  Pictures of Friends who have Liked the ad or have made a comment will also be incorporated into the ad.  The goal is to start a conversation between Friends and Friends of Friends,  with comments traded back and forth,  spreading credibility and brand visibility far beyond the advertiser’s usual reach.  As a result,  the whole advertising process will become organic and based on who knows and trusts the advertiser.

To verify the process,  Facebook tested the new ads and found they produced 40%  more engagement  (meaning clicks,  comments and Likes)  and are 80%  more likely to be remembered by viewers.  Best of all,  Facebook claims that viewers of the new ads are four times more likely to follow-up and/or purchase products / services when they see their Friends interacting with the ads. The new ads are set to promote the coveted  “word of mouth”  that is widely seen as the most effective form of advertising.

The data have convinced Facebook execs that the hyper-social ads will have a substantially better conversion rate for advertisers than traditional print or online ads.  The top brass believe that ads  “written”  by those who know the products and services best will convey trust and credibility in a way that traditional advertisements cannot.  The company is expected to discontinue its traditional banner ads and offer current advertisers replacement with the new format.

I was unable to find any cost data on the new interactive ads.  If even a couple of your business clients are inclined to follow Facebook,  the new ads could be a very savvy way of spreading the good word about your services and giving those who don’t know you well the confidence to hire you based on the endorsements of people they know and trust.  I’ve thus far avoided Facebook,  but I plan to pay attention to this new ad format.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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Heads-up: Google + Business Pages

At last it is here.  The business page option for Google Plus was rolled out in November of last year.  The early adapters are still figuring it out,  but the consensus is that Google + is an innovative and useful social marketing tool for Freelancers,  business owners and our customers.   Google + combines and enhances the business-friendly social networking features of Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter and presents it all in one platform.

You’ll be able to share links,  location data,  photos,  videos and have interactive two-way conversations on the Plus platform.  Ian Schafer,  founder of the Manhattan digital marketing agency Deep Focus,  says  “Integrating with Google + is essential right now,  because of its impact on Google search results.  Experimentation will give businesses  (especially small ones)  a leg up on their competition.”

But all is not rosy.  First of all,  you need a Gmail address to set up and access the service.  On top of that,  there is as yet no cross-platform integration with other Google services.  Plus doesn’t mesh with Analytics,  Blogger or YouTube.  The company vows that full integration is on the horizon,  but an arrival date has not been promised.

As with all social media,  you must sign up  (with Gmail)  and create a profile.  Like LinkedIn,  describing your services is the name of the game.  The  “About”  tab is especially important,  for this is how visitors to your page will elect to invite you to connect with them  (or not).  Present an informative,  compelling profile and tell the story of you and your products and services.  You may provide a link to your website.

Like Facebook,  photos figure prominently in you Plus profile.  Before you sign up,  create five photos of yourself in action as you provide different aspects of your services,  sit on a panel,  speak or teach,  take a meeting or whatever.  Those photos will be uploaded to the Photo Strip,  which is displayed beneath your business name and tag line on your home page.

Next you can populate the  “Circles”,  “Sparks” and  “Hangout”  sections.  Circles are grouping categories for your connections.  Hangout lets you set up various group events and invite contacts from your Circles and also the public to interact in useful and engaging ways.  Sparks is a streaming feature that lets you choose to receive info that keeps you updated on business issues of interest to you.

Invite clients and professional contacts to join Circles that you will designate.  You get to curate what information is shared with contacts based on the Circle you place them in and that decision will be determined by their relationship to you and your business.  You may designate Circles for clients,  peers and colleagues,  members of your business advisory board,  friends,  press updates,  or whatever categories seem appropriate.

Through interactions with those in your Circles,  you may refine your understanding of what contacts would like to know about your business,  how your services can be packaged and marketed and/or what clients value most about your services and how you can become even more valuable.

Like the LinkedIn Answers forum,  questions can be posted and Google+ members can offer answers.  It’s a great way to expand your connections and build relationships by sharing your expertise.  Visit http://findpeopleonplus.com to find professionals in your target markets and find out what’s on their mind,  how you can help and who you want to invite into a Circle.

Hangout is a very intriguing feature of Plus.  It one-ups Facebook and the Skype connection.  Real-time interactive communication is possible on Hangout and with a larger audience.  Reportedly,  the Dalai Lama recently hosted a Hangout with Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu with an audience of millions. 

 With Hangout,  those of us who teach now have a way to present our courses and workshops in a free online classroom that will host up to 10 students in a group class.  Private consulting sessions are also possible with clients who live anywhere there is internet access.

So check out Google+ and consider the benefits for your business.  49 million hits were made on Plus in December 2011 and analysts predict that Plus will have 400 million users by year-end 2012.  Google is the word’s biggest search engine and inbound links are increasingly important in search engine marketing.  A well-thought out and crafted Google+ page has the potential to draw in prospects with the money and motive to join your client roster,  the best Circle of all.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

What’s Your Influencer Score?

If you have a Facebook,  LinkedIn or Twitter account, get ready to have rating points assigned to your online presence.  There’s yet another way to keep score in this world and the newest yardstick is your social media reach. The rating system resembles a credit score or Google page ranking and it assesses your social media power and influence.  Three companies, Klout, Peer Index and Twitter Grader, will analyze and determine who the heavy hitters are.

Who are the movers and shakers,  experts and taste makers,  across a range of topics and specialties within a certain geolocation? Marketing departments want to know.  While authors, celebrities, politicians and athletes have traditionally been capable of influencing opinions on a large scale, social media have given a powerful voice to ordinary citizens and a new league of authorities has emerged.

The rating companies measure your Facebook (Klout),  LinkedIn  (Klout, coming soon)  and Twitter  (all three)  friends,  connections and tweets on their respective algorithms.  According to analysts at Hewlett Packard who tried to crack the codes,  a large network of contacts and friends is not the primary value of the influencer score.

Peer Index focuses on topic resonance  (how much interest you generate within your area of expertise),  subject authority  (perceived credibility and trust)  and activity  (how much content you generate within your topic)  in its ranking recipe.  If you’re looking to game the system  (you wouldn’t try that, would you?),  it is beneficial to become well known for a particular topic and avoid being a generalist.

In other words,  go narrow and deep.  Boost your influencer score  (and online brand)  by demonstrating knowledge and expertise,  trustworthiness and credibility and enthusiasm and passion for your preferred subject.

Furthermore,  demonstrate your ability to influence those in your network with calls to action and recommendations that engage and inspire followers and friends and cause them to spread the word about your choices and opinions.  Did you get out the vote for Obama or persuade people to join the revolution in Cairo? If so, then you are an influential social media darling.

Surprisingly,  blogs,  newsletters and YouTube are not in the ratings mix at this time,  but tweets and online profiles most definitely are.  The rankings of your connections and friends also factor impact your score,  as do the rankings of those who retweet you.

It’s possible to sign yourself up for free and learn your Twitter rating on Peer Index http://peerindex.net or Twitter Grader http://twitter.grader.com and your Facebook score on Klout http://klout.com.  The latter recently announced a deal to rank LinkedIn profiles  (I wonder if activity on the Answers Forum will be in the algorithm?).

So what’s in it for high scorers? Thousands of companies have already signed on to buy data and big influencers are positioned to receive all manner of promotional goodies.  As reported in The New York Times on June 26, 2011,  Audi will begin to offer special promotions to Facebook users based on their Klout scores.

Last year, Virgin America selected highly rated Facebook influencers in Toronto and rewarded them with free round-trip flights to Los Angeles or San Francisco.  The Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas used Klout scores to choose Facebook influencers and give them either free room upgrades or free admission to Cirque du Soleil.

Nevertheless,  a corrective is in order.  While it is apparent that social media influencers exist and in certain circumstances they are able to impact the actions and opinions of others,  they do not necessarily live up to the hype.  Duncan Watts,  author of  “Everything is Obvious Once You Know the Answer” (2011),  asserts that the  “influencers”  do not always obtain impact through their expertise,  persuasiveness,  popularity or reputation.

Watts used computer simulations to model how information is likely to disperse through social media and found that the spread of an idea or story depends upon  “a critical mass of easily influenced people,  who in turn influence other easy-to-influence people.”  When this critical mass exists,  “even an average individual is capable of triggering a large cascade.”

Well,  so much for algorithms.  However,  it may be fun to sign up and get your influencer score anyway. You might somehow manage to get a high rating,  perhaps because you’re connected to other high influencers,  and get some promotional comps as a result.  But then again,  being connected to the right people has always  been how to get the goodies,  with or without social media influence!

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Tweet to Build Buzz for Your Business

Because the February-March session sold out,  I have been invited to reprise my three-part workshop  “Become Your Own Boss: Effective Business Plan Writing”  at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street Boston MA on three Mondays,  May 9, 16 & 23 from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM.  For more information or to register please visit http://bit.ly/becomeyourown59  or call 617.267.4430.

As you develop strategies to promote your services,  be mindful that the goal is to package yourself in a way that makes clients feel that hiring you is a smart move.  Keeping your name visible by publishing good content across various media outlets and platforms is a strategy that will support your goal. 

When under consideration for an assignment,  you want to be certain that an internet search of your name brings up links to postings that demonstrate your bona fides.  The savvy Freelancer creates an online footprint that portrays a knowledgeable and capable professional,  one worthy of trust and lucrative contracts. 

Today,  we’ll take a closer look at how Twitter can support your online presence and brand,  help you build relationships,  connect with peers and portray yourself as a familiar and trusted source of useful information.  Let’s start the process by considering these three questions:

  • Who do you want to reach?

Since your tweets will focus on business,  it’s  safe to say that you’re looking to connect with current and potential clients and perhaps also peers with whom you do not directly compete.

  • Will your tweets be interactive?

Will your stream be public  and will you allow followers to post comments?  I suggest that you say yes to both and post comments to other’s tweets as well.

  • Do you have time to create good content?

In the allotted 140 characters,  it’s important that your tweets be relevant and timely and a conversation,  not a one-way sales pitch.

In the beginning,  try spending a few days  following the stream of someone whose tweets you find relevant,  then join conversations and answer questions.  When you feel ready,  start tweeting. 

Give updates on conferences you’ll attend,  on items in your newsletter,  on the workshop you’ll conduct.  So that your stream is not just all about you,  share links to articles you think your group might like to read and re-tweet interesting updates that you’ve received.

When it comes to followers,  focus on quality over quantity.  Your objective is to connect with key influencers and not everyone.  Share relevant stories that highlight your expertise.  Be helpful and informative.  Make a point of commenting on what others are doing.  Give your brand a voice and personality.

Tweeting is an ideal way for in-the-moment info sharing and that also includes listening.  In other words,  Twitter can play a role in market research and competitive intelligence.  Use Twitter to learn what your clients say about services they find useful and are willing to pay for;  about new trends and priorities that may help you identify potential business opportunities;  and to learn what competitors are doing and saying. 

Visit http://search.twitter.com to find out what’s being said about topics in your industry.  Add the Company Buzz app to your LinkedIn profile and find out what’s being said about your business.  You’ll be able to view tweets and learn the top key words associated with searches of your company.  Use what you learn to refine your brand and sharpen your sales pitch.

While you’re on LinkedIn you can also add the Tweets app to your profile.  This app will allow you to tweet,  reply and re-tweet all from LinkedIn and will also display your latest tweets on your page.

Along the way you’ll no doubt make some Twitter friends,  but remember that true relationship building requires personal contact and virtual connections are not necessarily reliable.  So use Twitter to encourage face-to-face activities. 

Invite your group to networking meet-ups and to your workshops and other speaking engagements.  In return,  be sure that you likewise support the activities of those in your group.

Social media platforms can make your name and business activities familiar to many and might even lead you to discover new business opportunities.  Consider it “free” advertising,  as you let the online community know of your capabilities.  Just remember to factor in the cost of your time.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Twitter for Your Freelance Practice

Because the February-March session sold out,  I have been invited to reprise my three-part workshop  “Become Your Own Boss: Effective Business Plan Writing”  at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street Boston MA on Mondays May 9, 16 & 23 from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM.  For more information or to register please visit http://bit.ly/becomeyourown59  or call 617.267.4430.

I don’t know about you,  but I’ve made a point of avoiding Twitter.  It appeared to be a total waste of time,  unless you plan to either start a revolution or take your band on tour.  Tweeting on subjects like what I decide to have for lunch is way too much information sharing.

Although it’s been easy to dismiss Twitter as just so much noise,  the microblogging platform is nevertheless rapidly gaining traction among businesses.  A convincing case can possibly be made for using Twitter to benefit a Freelance consulting practice.  So maybe I should reconsider?

Twitter is now five years old and growth trends for both business and personal use are upward, despite a reported 60%  dropout rate among users.  According to the tech marketing research firms BIA/Kelsey and ConStat,  nearly 20%  of businesses currently include Twitter in online marketing strategies and nearly 50%  indicate that in 2011 they plan to increase the use of online social media as a means to connect with current and potential customers.

Data from both research firms show that newer businesses and younger business owners are more likely to embrace online social media,  rather than traditional print media,  and to incorporate its use in marketing and customer outreach.  Businesses less than seven years old are more likely to use Twitter and less likely to advertise in the Yellow Pages,  for example.  Money is also a determining factor,  since other than time spent updating content (and time is money),  online social marketing is free.

But how effective is Twitter and the other social media platforms in helping to spin straw into gold and generate billable hours?  I’ve read a handful of anecdotal success stories,  but in my experience LinkedIn has not brought me a single contract in four years of active membership.  Come to think of it,  two years of blogging hasn’t brought me any money,  either (but hope springs eternal).  However,  there is a prospective client who follows my posts and has complimented me on what I produce.  There’s  no contract yet,  though (hint, hint!).

One thing I do know is that it’s entirely possible to build a lucrative consulting practice without either ad budget or Twitter,  LinkedIn,  blog or newsletter.  The most successful Freelance consultants with whom I’m acquainted—client lists to die for!—spend no money on promoting their services and have no social media presence.  An internet search of their names yields nothing.  That’s because in our business,  it’s not only who you know,  but also who knows you.  The highest paid Freelancers are known by the right people and they’ve successfully monetized those relationships.

Most of us will never dwell in that Valhalla,  but we know that Freelance consulting is a referral business.  We know that  to keep the cash flowing,  we must continually demonstrate to those who matter that we are capable,  reliable experts who will get the job done every time.  To be successful,  we must create and sustain positive word-of-mouth  (always the best form of advertising),  primarily by doing a first-rate job for our clients.

Beyond that,  we must establish good relationships with those who possess the money and motive to contract for our services.  The smartest Freelancers know to build relationships  before  they are needed. 

In theory,  social media help narrow the gap between the regular folks and the fortunate few by allowing us to share expertise and information,  announce our successes,  learn what is being said about the types of services that we provide and learn how to effectively communicate our value.  We have a forum in which to portray ourselves as  a knowledgeable,  trustworthy,  familiar known quantity,  which is precisely what our highest paid colleagues have done.  We also learn to get smarter about how we do business overall.

So maybe tweeting might be worth your time?  Next week,  we’ll discuss practical tips for how to create buzz for your business by way of Twitter. 

Thanks for reading,

Kim