Part 6: Simple Social Media Tools – LinkedIn

In the last post, the importance of having a blog was discussed and how commonly available marketing materials such as press releases can be reused as content. In the next three posts, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ will be explained. These are current, common, and simple social media services.

First, a follow-up comment on the last post. A company called Prosig was used as a positive example of the use of simple social media tools: a great website, a blog, a Twitter feed, LinkedIn updates, and Google+. I went to their website and requested their free Noise and Vibration Handbook. A form was provided and I filled out my contact information. I then saw an interesting product that I thought a colleague would be interested in and requested information providing technical details on his application. The same form was presented again, requiring reentry of my contact information. Several days later, there was still no response from the company. There was no confirmation of the requests, no email, no phone call, nothing. If you spend valuable resources to create a social media presence and do not respond to direct requests like these, why bother? Even worse, potential customers may think, “if this is the communication before the sale, what kind of support will be provided after?” It is worth taking a moment every month to confirm that the feedback from these tools is being acted on promptly. Maybe the problem is technical, maybe organizational, but sending a test message through the system should insure that the entire process is working properly. Remember, social media is not a substitute for effective sales and marketing practices.

The first simple social media tool to be discussed is LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be very complex, but it is easy to start with a simple subset of their features. First, create an account, compose your company profile, and begin the process of developing your LinkedIn network. LinkedIn holds your hand through these basic steps. Be aware that it takes time to create a network. To speed up the process, contacts can be invited to your network by allowing LinkedIn to scan your email contacts. LinkedIn seems trustworthy and this can be an easy way to start. You can also join your industry’s LinkedIn groups by searching for them using the box at the top of the LinkedIn website and selecting groups. You will be surprised at how many specific niche technology groups exist.

linkedingroups

Finally, once your profile is created and your network begins to grow, create a Company Page by reading LinkedIn’s instructions (http://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1561). This will allow your customers and potential customers to follow your company and get your status updates directly. Status updates are easy to post and can link to your existing blog entries. Conversely, on your blog, put a link to your LinkedIn Company Profile. If you are using WordPress, the Social Media Widget from Blink Web Effects (http://blinkwebeffects.com/) is simple and works well.

I realize that this does not sound simple, but it is worth the effort. LinkedIn has a great system for organizing status updates that encourages professionals to actively follow professionals. Their IOS apps are excellent and highly rated so your customers can also get your updates from their mobile devices. I have been amazed over the years at how my network has grown “organically” to over 100 very specific, niche technology focused contacts. I actually enjoy seeing my connections expanding their networks as they develop their careers and capabilities. If you are willing to make the effort, your customers might feel the same about you and your company.

Next time, the role of Twitter in simple social networking will be explored. Despite being around over 7 years now, it is still evolving and a few simple guidelines can make it an effective addition to a social media toolkit. Also, another friendly reminder to please take a moment to go to elephanttech.com and sign up for our free email newsletter. It contains material not found in these posts, only goes out every couple weeks, and we never sell or share our email list.

Part 5: Simple Social Media Tools – A Blog

Most niche technology companies issue press releases when a new product is announced, a major customer is acquired, or another news worthy event occurs. These press releases are intended for the niche market’s news media which theoretically will pick up the article and publish it. In reality, these news articles typically get collected onto a company’s website into a “News” section, rarely read and almost never republished. Still, these press releases have value as a starting point for other social media uses such as a blog, Twitter tweets, LinkedIn status update, Google+ posts, and others.

A blog might be the most important of these, even if you do not use it to solicit comments from your customers. It allows authorized users to create content for your company website without technical knowledge of web design. Some blogging systems, such as the free WordPress platform (http://wordpress.org), can be used to create anything from a simple blog to a complete company website where only selected pages have blog posts.

Other benefits of a blog include control and ownership of your content. Using a social media website controlled by a specific company can be a problem if the site goes away. Do you remember Geocities and MySpace? Even popular services like Facebook only recently have created a way to back up posts. Other technical advantages of hosting your own blog are post popularity tracking, automatic support for mobile browsers, and integration with other social media platforms. The last one is the most powerful. Once you have created a blog post, it is straightforward to link to it in an email, tweet it in Twitter, or use it for a status update in LinkedIn.

Creating a blog is simple in theory, but integrating it with your website requires some technical knowledge. WordPress is probably the most popular and can be installed in three steps:

  1. If you don’t have a website already, find a Web Host (http://wordpress.org/hosting/). The ones that WordPress have historically recommended have been great hosting companies in general besides offering easy integration with a WordPress blog.
  2. Download & Install WordPress (http://wordpress.org/download/) by using their famous 5-minute installation. It is famous for being 5-minutes under perfect conditions, like using their recommended web hosts. Otherwise, have your webmaster available for this step. It can get ugly and involve FTP access, setting up a MySQL database, users, permissions, and other complex settings.
  3. Read the Documentation (http://codex.wordpress.org/Main_Page) and become a WordPress expert yourself.

Don’t be intimidated by these steps, it is worth learning the basics of a blogging platform like WordPress. Once you get past the installation and configuration, you will end up with an easy to use web interface that allows creation of posts, editing of posts, moderation of comments, design changes, etc. by users you authorize. 

wordpress

There are also other related benefits of blogs. Regular blogging of great content gives customers a sense of a well run, modern company. Also, it quickly creates a web presence, especially if press releases lead to blog entries that are tweeted, posted to LinkedIn, and other related websites. Prosig is a niche technology company and a Google search returns impressive results for them that are typically only returned for much larger, mainstream companies.

prosig

The next posts in this series will briefly discuss three other simple social media tools that you can pick and choose from to create social media presence. Also, please take a moment to go to elephanttech.com and sign up for our free email newsletter. It contains material not found in these posts, only goes out every couple weeks, and we never sell or share our email list.

Part 4: Simple Social Media Tools – Email Interaction

Email can be a great social media tool, but it needs to be used with great care. Many people’s email inboxes are flooded with newsletters, advertisements, and other miscellaneous e-cruft. There is no social aspect to these communications, they are “push only.” With the tools described in the previous post, your emails can become a social interaction. You can add links to new datasheets, white papers, case studies, your customer newsletter, products on your webstore, add an occasional survey, link to content in your user forums such as popular discussions, and many other useful tidbits of information. The email management system will show which links customer have clicked. You should also archive these emails on your website so customers can find them later. It can be frustrating to find a bit of useful information in a company email, then search for it later on their website and not be able to find it. An iterative process like this can initiate the social aspect of email for your company. For niche technology companies, information you might find mundane can be valuable, hard to find information for your customers.

One warning though, be careful when building your email list. The US email laws are very specific about people having to “opt-in” to email. MailChimp has a great guide (http://kb.mailchimp.com/article/can-i-use-my-list-in-mailchimp) worth reading, some of the ways of getting email addresses that are not allowed are surprising.

mailchimplists

Next time we will explore more advanced, but still simple, social media tools.

Part 4: Simple Social Media Tools – Email!

From the standpoint of presenting some “simple” social media tools, the first focus will be tools that enable great content, starting with the humble email. You probably already have some kind of email newsletter you send out a few times a year. It allows you to “push” information to your customers, keeps your database up to date, and sometimes can generate new sales leads. Hopefully you use a great email management system. If not, there is no excuse. Some excellent ones are free for small mailing lists, easy to use, and very advanced. I use one with a strange name, MailChimp (mailchimp.com). The first time I used it, I setup a campaign in less than 30 minutes. MailChimp takes care of all the ugly details of mail list development, management, avoiding spam filters, etc. It is free for up to 2,000 subscribers / 12,000 emails per month. So if you have 1,000 subscribers, you can send 12 emails per month. This is sufficient for many niche technology businesses. One of the most amazing parts of MailChimp is the preview function. Here is a sample preview for both an email to be opened on a computer and on a mobile device. mailchimp1 mailchimp2

This preview is from their simplest single column “template.” You can choose from hundreds of templates from simple to designer templates.

mailchimp3

MailChimp and many other email management systems include the ability to track how many people have opened your email, not opened it, unsubscribed to it, clicked on links in it, and how many bounced emails came back (and from whom). It also tracks who has opened it geographically. If you are targeting the automotive industry, wouldn’t it be nice to see how many recipients in Michigan opened the email?

So start simple with social media, upgrade your customer emails. It can be done in less than an hour and the results will impress your customers and improve your bottom line. Next time I will discuss turning simple email into a social media interaction.

Part 3: Simple Social Media Tools

I received a strange email the other day. No, not THAT kind of strange email, Google filters those nicely, thank you. It was from a company called Dynamedion advertising “Your Music Played by a Symphonic Orchestra.” Here is a link to a PDF of the email: Dynamedion. I am not sure why I received this, but strangely I was attracted to the idea from a social media standpoint. For a company to think that they could market an “orchestral recording service” was intriguing. They made it so easy with their three step process (http://www.dynamedion.com/orchestra/).

dynamedion_threesteps

You can pay online, send them an MP3, then “lean back and wait” for the final product. They create the orchestration for a 66 piece orchestra, they hire the musicians, they book the space, they do the recording, all while you “lean back and wait.” The email was well done, starting with a short testimonial from composer and ending with a list of impressive credits. They even have an online cost calculator  (http://www.dynamedion.com/orchestra/oors) lets you know exactly how much a 66 piece orchestra costs based on the number of minutes of music, etc. FYI, it costs about $900 / minute of music.

If Dynamedion can help a non-musician understand the process of recording an orchestral session, any niche technology company can find a way to develop an interest in their product or service, no matter how complex. Next up, examples of repurposing existing marketing materials and integrating them with simple social media tools.