Sunday, November 27, 2011

Monetization challenges with Social Media

(Image Source:

Social media continues to b a top priority for marketers across the globe. Not only marketers, other departments like Sales, HR, Solution centers and R & D Labs accept the impact that social media has given to their activities. But the key remains that thought there is buy in from senior management, monetizing social media campaigns can be a very tricky affair.

To look at this from the historical perspective, It has always been a challenge to calculate the ROI for marketing spends. Almost all marketing activities require downstream sales or operational support to ensure a sale is completed hence we are able to attach a monetary value to the marketing effort. This is relatively easier in the B2C and product companies. But the real challenge comes in the services business where the brand is experienced from the services offered and interactions with the company personnel.
Social Media monetization offers a similar challenge. How to monetize the effort?
Now measurement of impact has become easy.

There are social media tools that would tell you how many people received your message on Twitter or how many lives you have received for a particular post. Some will also measure the sentiment associated with a certain discussion to let the brand know if the conversation is in the positive context of negative. Klout for example can give data on your true reach and amplification. Also the number of followers on Twitter and connections on Facebook are again measurement tools.

But when it comes to monetization all this amounts to Nada.
One can measure sentiment but if the sentiment is not able to drive a enquiry or sale then it will difficult to monetize the same.

In the coming days most marketing dollars will be spent on finding the answers to this.
I would like to hear your opinion, on the same. How are you trying to monetize the impact of social media? What are the tools and techniques you are following?

Friday, November 25, 2011

3 Fundamental Steps towards Social Curation and Content Efficiency!

Second of my two part article on the growing challenge faced by organizations and brands to track & maintain their profiles across diverse Social Network and effectively maintaining them on the landscape.

In my previous post I did quite a bit of discussion on the below 3 issues:
  1. Challenge that the Web2.0 world is facing thanks to so many Social Media Networks mushrooming.
  2. How this chaos has led to the idea of SocialMedia Curation
  3. Some fairly known SocialMedia Curation tools available today

In this post we’d be talking in detail about the wholistic picture of Social Media Curation and the 3 fundamental steps on how to effectively perform it.

As mentioned in my previous post I’d like to reiterate for the sake of my new readers that due to so many social networks in the online networking space the Marketing managers are facing a herculean task on how to engage and interact with their network without seeming repetitive. This may look a simple problem but is fatal if left unnoticed because users maintain many of the same network connection on the other social networks.

While there are lots of tools available online that can help mediate between multiple social networks and curate the data or content involved, effectively putting them to use is an art to be learnt. These tools (I quite love referring them to as “The Social MailBox” because they are a combination of Emails+RSS+SocialMedia)

After a lot of synthesis on the process I would roughly zero down to 3 fundamental steps the social media managers must adhere in order to perform social Curation”

Step 1: Examine the Content
Now before you get into sharing content on various social media with both hands and feet deep into it, one must definitely analyze on whether the content of what is being posted or broadcasted is being accepted or understood by one network when compared to another. For example, the level of tolerance of a status update in Facebook is very different from that of LinkedIn. While the former is more of a casual/personal network the latter is a network of professional people. So it is important to choose your Social Network platform wisely by examining the type of content.

Step 2: Evaluate the Audience on the type of Network
This is just like the Step 1 but just that instead of the Content one would need to analyze the sentiments or the level of attentively of the audience. This step is important because it would decide if your content has to go viral or not. For example, you have built a network of people on a Social Media that is interested to discuss on “The different types of Curry” while you post a content on “Rocket Science”… what do you think would happen? Let me answer – either of these two probabilities: 1. You’d be considered the odd man out and would be treated like the boy who cried the wolf. 2. Be banned from that network.

Thanks to Klout, today we have something called as the “Level of Influence” on any given network and one can even find out what one’s expert topic is & what their network is talking about.

Step 3: Get-Set-Go!
Your content is checked and seems relevant, your audience is also checked and are interested in to proudly propagate your content to their network, so what are we waiting for? Christmas?

With these 3 fundamental steps one can sync themselves with the currents trends of Social Media which has already been initiated into the Curation or Mediation stage. While multiple platforms will continue to grow in the online space and users will continue to create accounts to ensure they don’t miss out the bus, a proper Social Curation habit and a process driven mindset will lead to keeping the difficulties in managing multiple platforms in check.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are your Social Media Managers adapting to Social Curation Tools?

First of my two part article on the growing challenge faced by organizations and brands to track & maintain their profile across diverse Social Networks that are mushrooming on the web and how to cope up with it.

Probably a few year ago there used to be only one online social platform required to stay in the loop, personally MySpace & Orkut were my favorite. But then, there came Facebook with better features and it even allowed me to “Poke” my friend apart from the usual stuff of sharing my Photos and Videos with them. After a year Facebook was virtually a capital of the World Wide Web, with addictive applications like Mafia Wars and FarmVille on it (I remember having some half a dozen pink and brown cows). So I abandoned MySpace and Orkut to become a strict Facebook user. It was a wonderful world until last two years ago!

Now there are diverse social networks that specialize in different parts of Social living and users are compelled in creating accounts without disbanding from previous social platforms. I’m sure this increasing number of social platform has become a nightmare of every Chief Marketing Officer / Brand Officers as day by day the chaos is increasing and it’s practically impossible to track every platform. More over users are dealing with a peculiar new challenge that was not experienced before – where to post what and how not to make it repetitive (as repetition of content would degrade its value).

Since such issues like this have begun to arise, it is time we learn to become “Social Mediators” or “Social Curators” – choose either of the term as per you convenience, it’s all the same.

Social Curation/Mediation is the user management of multiple platforms and the difficulties associated with them. Honestly this act of Social Curation or Mediation can only be discussed in theory as until now the actual mediation between different social networks has never ever happened. Like I had mention in the start of this article, until now users have only abandoned one platform to adopt another. But this would not be the scenario going forward, as everybody wants to leverage on the specialty of the diverse Social Networks.

The coming year would see a bullish growth in demand for Social Curation tools and processes that would help users to track & edit their various social profiling in a single window. In a layman’s term these Social Curation tools are a combination of Emails+RSS+Social Media = A Social Mailbox (Yuppie!!)

Some tools like MarketMeSuite, Storify, Projeqt, and likes have already proactively come into the existence knowingly or unknowingly of this challenge, but then there is a long way to go until we hit upon the perfect tool or Service.

These are Web tools which let users easily assemble multiple bits of social multimedia content.  Twitter updates, blog posts, Facebook content, and more can be hauled into a single stream, which in turn can be presented as a collection or story.  Put another way, these tools are another way to create slideshows and digital stories.

In my next post we’d go more into the details of Social Media Curation, its best practices and quality metrics to ensure that your business/brand does not become a victim of Social Media Catastrophe (refer my previous post to know more on this)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is your business Social Media Catastrophe proof?

If you think you’ve done a great task by just putting your company profile on all the Social Media networks available and have gone a step ahead by asking your employees to join your social profile with a brilliant “icing on the cake strategy” of asking your employees to maintain the content and engagement, Congratulations! You’ve just created & welcomed a Frankenstein with a Red Carpet.

I really wish there was just one great Social Media Network and thereby managing your company’s online reputation would have been much easier. But then we live in a world of cut throat competition where no one wants to have just a Facebook, a Twitter or LinkedIn or rather should I say everybody wants more of better social tools (between lines – more Social Networks will mushroom on the world wide web).

I’m sure we’d all have heard the famous incidents faced by some big brands on the Social Media embarrassment. The most famous amongst them are of the Honda Product Manager Eddie Okubo who was caught AstroTurfing consumer sentiments; or that of Video of Taco Bell that went Viral on YouTube for all wrong reasons of unhygienic practices. All these and many more incidents (do consider the Jasmine Revolutions) show the power of Social Media to bring people together.

Social Media has given consumers a whole new voice. A recent study by Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology found that 20% of Twitter updates are either in form of Product RFI or sentiments on a brand.

While Social Media has infinite potential to do wonders for your business, it also has the potential to cause a catastrophe. Any sentiment shown left unnoticed can prove fatal to your business dynamics. A hazard of social Media is that people will read what you write and from then it goes viral i.e., gets multiplied in its impact by the trail of online wreckage it creates. With that in mind, you might just get a herculean task of not giving your employees, consumers and stake holders anything bad to talk about.

Companies such as Amazon, United Airlines, Pepsi, Honda and Motrin have made mistakes resulting in unprecedented ramifications, thanks to customer feedback & sentiments via social media. Now notice that these are big brands that carry immense credibility in the market, what if such a catastrophe strikes a SMB? Scary, isn’t it?

Brands can stave off a Social Media Catastrophe by being cautious and vigilant by responding swiftly to any sentiments (negative or positive) or online reputation crisis. Some of the tips to insure your business’s online reputation are:
  1. Have a clearly defined Social Media Strategy in place with governing policies and best practices. Getting into something without proper homework, quality & process, review mechanism and exit plan has always been fatal, so this is the first and foremost task on the To-Do list in the Social Media Strategy.
  2. Hire and put the expert at work. It might be lucrative for any employer to have their employees engaged on the company’s social media profiling but this may have its own drawbacks like employee productivity, security, quality checks and crisis management. So it is always advised to hire an Social Media Strategy Agency and outsource the tedious work of your reputation management and brand sentiment or Social media Intelligence.
  3. Fight Social Media Fire with Social Media Fire. Ever noticed that the only way to control a Jungle fire is by having a counter fire on its path. Such is the case as well in Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter or any other network, always make sure you are in the same medium as your customer/employees/other stake holders.
  4. Context Matters. If you are responding to a tweet, make sure you aren't responding to the final series of tweets, as you could end up looking foolish.
  5. Apologies Matter. If you are going to apologize to your customers, you’d better mean it. This act might sound simple yet is the most powerful way to convert crisis into an opportunity. It helps in repairing the damaged trust and also further acts as an adhesive between the buyer-seller relationships.
  6. Don’t bite the hands that feed you. Don’t mock or belittle your customers. It’s a bad move and the most foolish thing to do on a public channel like a social network.
  7. It matters who steers the ship. It pays to trust your staff, but make sure the person running your social media front has the sensibility and the training that you can rely on. It’s always advisable to give this job of an undertaker to a neutral third party agency that specializes in Social Media Strategy.
  8. Avoid “The Streisand Effect.” Sometime, you are the problem or invariability create the problem. By trying to cover up or mend mistakes, you may be perpetuating them further. Focus efforts on shutting down, not causing the media hype. This is actually an art that can be learnt upon regular practice. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Make Learning Social - Thanks to the Social Networks!

“If you can’t beat them, join them,” is the approach educators are beginning to take in regards to social media usage in the classroom.

Teachers are still divided on the subject of allowing student access to Facebook and Twitter during school hours, and a recent survey of 2,000 teachers proved that with the results split down the middle. The teachers that don’t agree with social media usage see it as “harmful to the learning experience.” But social media in itself is not a threat to education. It all depends on how the user utilizes it. Similarly, gamers can use the internet to play games online all day while students can use the web to pursue an online master degree.

Teachers in favor of the social media classroom experience understand that Twitter and Facebook offer:

Familiarity: A large majority of students are active on social media and understand how to use it. They feel confident when on these networks and it will translate into doing school work through the site.

Excitement: Before Facebook and Twitter were accepted into the classroom students would sneak and use them during class time through their smart phones and other devices. Now that they are given access to use them in class, students will be excited and not abuse the opportunity.

Voice: Shy students are left out of class discussions and overlooked because they don’t have the confidence to speak up. They may have valid questions to ask or answers to contribute but they lack the self-esteem to speak up. Twitter and Facebook give these students an avenue to voice their opinions. Other students and people on social media can see it and comment. The positive feedback these introverted students receive will boost their confidence and encourage them to speak up.

The student’s access to Facebook and Twitter in the classroom would be predicated on the teacher implementing it into the lesson plan. One teacher had students watch a documentary on World War I and pay close attention. During the film they were required to Tweet three facts using the hash tag #WWI, so Twitter users worldwide would be able to see them.

The one issue with using social media in the classroom is the lack of resources in some schools. Certain teachers have used the BYOT, bring your own technology, method but every student doesn’t have access to a smart phone, iPad or laptop. Classrooms equipped with computers can make up for these students, but the classrooms without will need each student to supply their own equipment.

The best feature about incorporating social media into education is the fact that educators are willing to meet students where they are. Young people have a strong presence on social media but a large number of them are not using it for educational purposes. After completing class assignments through Twitter and Facebook and getting positive feedback and into debates, these same students may be more inclined to use their accounts to discuss what they learned at school.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Microsoft's Social Network 'Socl' - Coming Soon!

Back in July, Microsoft Corp. accidentally revealed its secret social network ‘Socl’ formerly known as ‘Tulalip’. Microsoft had prematurely published a splash page introducing people to the network. The page was taken down immediately, and replaced with a note to the public acknowledging the project.

The Verge has posted some new details which confirm that Microsoft is indeed working on ‘Socl’, a social network focused on search and sharing. Socl’s interface and color scheme looks a lot like other social networking sites. It has a three column layout with basic navigation in the left, a social feed in the middle, and invites and video chat on the right.

Socl is not designed as a “full” social network, rather the focus is on collaborative consumption. The Verge reports that there’s not much communication and interaction between users on Socl; no private messages, no @replies, and none of the curated, semi-private groups like Google’s circles. However, Microsoft is nearing the end of Socl private testing period and will roll this out to a bigger public audience through an invite system soon.

The Rise of Social Media Intelligence - A trend worth following in 2011

For several years now we've been told that at the very least we have to listen to the online conversations.  The number of Social Media monitoring tools has exploded and at last count there were over 200 on the market. However, there is much more to be learned from these conversations than just brand mentions, complaints and sentiment.

Savvy PR and marketing folk are digging deep into the conversations – mining that data to find insights that can drive strategy, inform product R & D, give the competitive edge and improve that pesky bottom line.

You start by listening and gathering information about your brand/s, your company and your competitors.  Once you have the data use that old PR skill called content analysis.

  1. Map your brand’s social graph
  2. Find the influencer(s) in each node of the graph
  3. Discover what different groups within one node are talking about and what’s important to them
  4. Find out where they are talking about those things
  5. Tap into what your competitors are doing and what people are saying about them
  6. Identify threats and opportunities
  7. Share the data you find with your team and others across the organization
  8. Brainstorm how best to implement what you find to support the organization ‘s goals

There is a ton of information available in the social networks and conversations, but it takes commitment and work to find all the threads.  A monitoring tool can do a lot of the work, but there is still a lot that  has to be done manually.  And the analysis cannot be done automatically. It takes a  live person with a bright and inquiring mind to read the content and figure out what’s important and what’s connected.  To see those  brewing threats and spot the low-hanging fruit that will bring big rewards.

There is an old PR saying – “Know before you go.”

For the past few years Social Media has been treated as a warm and fuzzy experiment.  Now that we know it works, it’s time to get serious about this data stream and use it to discover really useful information that can move the needle.

Social Media Intelligence is definitely a trend to watch in 2012 & it is definitely the Black Gold of the 21st Century for the World Wide Web (www).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Evolution of Social Media in 2012...

It’s that most wonderful time of the year … time to predict the future as we close out the year! I think my 2011 social media predictions were pretty solid, so I’m going to take another stab at it for 2012. Here are the five social media trends I think marketers need to be aware of in the next year as we grow and change along with technology and consumer demand.

Content Marketing
Content curation was so last year. In 2012 we’re going broader; we’ll be talking about a marketing discipline called “Content Marketing.” It’s actually not all that new; in fact, some social media pundits have been talking about it for years. But 2012 is the year content marketing is hits the social media trends list and the mainstream, because content marketing is now a concept that executives can finally sink their teeth into.

Content marketing is essentially the same thing that social media gurus have been discussing for quite some time, which is that brands must “be the media.” But “be the media” is a scary concept for a CMO or CEO, because they think that media = expensive. Because corporate execs are finally beginning to understand how writing blogs or creating video can enhance SEO, lead generation, customer relationship management, and more, budgets seem to be loosening to allow marketers to create, as well as curate, content as a marketing strategy.

As such, we will be looking for marketing staff with more and varied skills. We’ll need people with great editorial skills; who can write blogs, white papers and slide presentations; and who can conceptualize and perhaps even edit video. If the marketing staff has those capabilities, the costs for content marketing get absorbed into the department and no longer represent a scary line item.

And if our marketing staff is also our content creating and curating team, we also need to think about hiring for our department in a different way: people who are in social media roles most likely need to be the customer they’re serving, or at least must be able to walk comfortably in their shoes. A 45 year old man likely won’t be the content marketer for breastfeeding supplies (I know it's a weird example but just try and get the point). Brands will be looking for content marketers who match their demographic, which may open up new corporate job opportunities to subject matter experts in a variety of disciplines.

Social Media Influence
Influence in 2012 might be defined by Klout, or Kred, or PeerIndex. It doesn’t matter. The point is that anyone who is looking to court customers is wanting to understand who’s who, else they wind up in a morass of names, unable to know whom to court to help them spread the word about their product or service. Influence-ranking services such as those above, as maligned as they are, are merely trying to help marketers cut through the clutter of tweets and blog posts to figure out who they should talk to. 2012 is not going to be the year that a perfect tool emerges, but it will be a year for broad adoption of the ranking tools and lots of C-suite talk about “influence” in general.

Personally, I think the future of social media influence is in a combination of online and offline factors. For example, how do you augment someone’s influence score if they’ve written a book? Or if they’re the president of their kids’ school PTA? Or if they have an extensive speaking career? Any of those factors would indicate that those individuals have opportunities to spread messages to groups of people who likely trust them and rely on their opinions, yet this is in no way reflected in any of the online influence scores. Because of this disconnect between online and offline influence, I’m not putting my money down on any of the influence rankers at this point. I am, however, using them all personally to understand how they work, and selectively relying on them to advise clients, though my rolodex of bloggers whom I know personally is still a far better asset. After all, social media is still about relationships, and there’s no substitute for getting to know the people you are hoping will help you promote your brand.

Convergence of Marketing + Technology + Data
Perhaps the most important of the social media trends to come, tighter integration between marketing, technology, and data is at topic I predict we’ll hear a lot about. New positions like “Marketing Technologist” and “Marketing Scientist” will emerge; within marketing departments people will learn these new skills and take on new roles.

Imagine what would happen if you, the marketer, had someone on staff who could create technology to meet the needs of your content and your promotions, who understood Facebook Connect and maybe even iPhone development, to boot? What if that person were a WordPress expert too? The future of marketing does not include waiting for the IT department to figure out what a WordPress plugin is. Marketers are going to take technology into their own hands and either train or hire people within their own departments who can move much more nimbly and creatively than traditional tech departments can.

I’m also seeing a trend towards marketers who are becoming masters at data analysis; smart marketer Dan Zarrella is one of the best known in the genre of Marketing Scientist. Some companies are starting to install analysts within their marketing departments. They have a staffer devoted to gleaning insights out of Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; they use the data generated to determine what content to provide within each of their platforms, to develop better promotions and events, and to figure out which products are resonating within various consumer communities. While most of them are opting to outsource their Social Media Management and Social Media Data Analysis to expert consulting companies such as

Just as with content marketing, above, smart marketers are going to figure out how to train or hire for the skills they need to make savvy social marketing decisions, rather than waiting for budgets to be approved or for help from other departments internally.

Legal Challenges Within Social Media
Let’s talk for an honest minute about one of the pitfalls of the crazy growth social media has experienced over the past few years. It’s a bit hard these days to figure out who’s shilling for whom and what are the rules, exactly. In order to quell some of the confusion, a couple of years ago the FTC laid out some very clear guidelines for blogger disclosure, and though there’s been continued debate about how to comply (do we really have to indicate a sponsored tweet?), disclosure is now the norm, not the exception. So good on you, bloggers and brands, for making that happen. And keep it up.

However, I predict that in 2012 a new legal menace is going to rear its ugly head, and it’s largely due to the plethora of bloggers who have cropped up and devoted themselves to reviews and giveaways, many of which are created and run in ways which do not comply with FTC and state guidelines. The law and how it handles this new, vast world is going to be one of the most important social media trends we see. In case you missed it, I’ve recently written nearly 1,800 words on the topic of Sweepstakes and Contests in these very pages, and I encourage you to check it out. In a nutshell, it says that most bloggers, and therefore brands, are doing it wrong: there are rules, and they’re not being followed. Ouch.

To be perfectly frank, I admit to welcoming some state or federal scrutiny on giveaways practices because I feel it will raise the bar for participation by bloggers (and brands) and help blogging get back to what it once was: storytelling and resources, not simply crass commercialism. I’m quite sure I’ll hear differing opinions on this score; please bring it on in the comments.

Social Security
Nope, this is not the kind that Congress is endlessly debating. It’s the kind you’re going to need now that your social networking information is being used by all sorts of outside agencies and companies to judge you in ways you never thought possible. Like insurance. And loans. And law enforcement.

Insurance companies are already using social media to validate claims: if you say you were in a car accident one night but update Facebook to say you had a fantastic evening, you may be sniffed out by your insurer. This will go even further in the coming year(s) as your social updates as well as your network may be part of the evaluation when you look for new insurance or apply for a loan. On the law enforcement side, social media can assist individuals and communities in the case of a disaster or accident by monitoring community social activity, looking for calls for help, and evaluating needs as information comes in from across the range of social networks. We also know that cops and agencies are using publicly-shared social media data to help fight crime which could lead to challenges in privacy rights and changes in how the social networks protect (or don’t protect) individuals’ data.  Even charities are getting into the act of co-opting individuals who may or may not be entirely aware of how their images and social connections are being used.

While privacy and security concerns have obvious implications for individuals, there are correlating considerations for marketers as well. If you’re selling products or services in a way which could potentially use customers’ social connections to enhance your offering, you’d better get working on it quickly before new startups step in to fill the void. Even if you personally don’t love the idea of using social connections in that way, trust me, someone else out there is going to do it, so you might as well protect your brand and figure it out.

What’s Not Here: Google+
I actually have a sixth prediction: that there will be dozens of 2012 social media predictions posts which include Google+. Yet I’m not really including it here, because it’s simply a platform, not a trend or movement. Brands will use Google+ as well as Facebook, Twitter, blogging, video, etc. to implement any or all of the above trends in one way or another. There is no question that Google+ will likely be a major force for brands in 2012, particularly now that brand pages have been rolled out and it’s seems pretty clear that good SEO for brands in the future will involve Google+ in some way. So keep your eye on this one, but don’t call it a trend, use it as a tool.

So friends, how did I do? Did I get social media trends for 2012 right in your eyes? What major trend did I miss? As always, I’m totally up for the debate and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Google Business Pages – The Holy Grail of Social Profiles.

I’m sure a lot of you would be thinking that its an overkill reaction to call the G+ Business Pages the Holy Grail. Honestly I am still figuring out the Business implication and model to use this new product from Google. What really excited me is the daring decision by Google to rewrite the code for the search engine, changing a tradition which has been used for over fifteen years and taking the ‘+’ sign (called operand) out of the search queries.

Initially it was believed that Google was promoting the (+) sign in assumption of the +1 button popularity and also with a symbolic meaning - to add people to your network. But now with the (+) sign out of the search engine queries Google has just unleashed a Demi-God for social media search engine & created a direct connection, unsurprisingly called “Google Direct Connect” which allows those who look for a business page to find its G+ profile straight from Google search. All they have to do is place ‘+’ in front of the page/brand/company name as in: +TheSocialPeople or +AngryBird and they will be taken straight to the respective G+ profile.

Now I guess I’ve justified my excitement to call this as THE HOLY GRAIL of Social Profiles, and I’m sure my fellow marketers would agree to this. To give an idea to those of you who’re still able to get the big picture of how important this is, think that when you create a Business Page on Facebook; you need to go through lengthy social media strategies to increase dynamics like likes, comments and shares in order to increase its EdgeRank or Klout Score. Apart from this you’d also have to depend on a lot of tools and apps to have it profiled high on Facebook so that it can appear the moment someone types “Facebook (Page Name)” or any other keyword associated with it.

With this crazy initiative of G+ Business Pages all these pains have practically gone! All one needs to do is create a G+ business page, and anyone on search typing +’Company Name or G+ Business page name’ will be able to go straight from Google search to the Page’s profile on G+.

Well there may be a flip side to this but why not just create a profile and research. I’ve just created my Google Business Page, have you?

Keep your screams and thoughts flowing. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The ROI Philosophy in Social Media Marketing Initiatives!!

Savvy entrepreneurs are looking to social media as another way to market their businesses.

Ok now here are the statistics I’ve got during one of my online research and they are quite impressive
  • Twitter grew 3,000 percent in April
  •  Facebook hosted 61.2 million visitors in March.
  • LinkedIn counts 20 million users worldwide.

With an audience THAT huge, as an Entrepreneur I’d practically feel what Ali Bala felt when he’d stumbled upon (oops did anybody notice that it’s yet another Social Media tool) the treasure hideout of the Forty Thieves; and guess what as a Social Media Marketing Company I also know the Magic word – “Open Sesame”.

But wait, we have Ali Baba (Savvy Entrepreneurs), the Forty Thieves (various Social Network Tools), the Treasure (Social Initiatives like branding, PR, CSR, ER, HR and much more)… aren’t some major characters missing – like Ali Hasan who’s the foolish brother of Ali Baba and the bold and beautiful Marjina (after all every story has to have a heroine)? Well, here they fit into the Social Media Landscape as the crowd who is yet to understand the power of social media yet is blindly venturing into it and the almighty Advertising Agencies respectively.

With a potential audience that big, it's no wonder savvy entrepreneurs are looking to unlock the secrets of social media as another way to get the word out about their businesses. Free access, to many social media accounts (and potential clients) just adds to the allure.

But is social media right for your business? Could it be a free substitute for a traditional (read: expensive) advertising plan? How much time should be spent in the care and feeding of all those profiles? The answers may surprise you.

"Traditional advertising and marketing is not dead," says Viral Thaker, Director – New Initiatives of Thaker advocates that Social Media is a new tool that when integrated with a more traditional marketing and advertising plan, "so you can have a healthy mix, much like a diversified investment portfolio."

“Though the platforms will differ based on the type of business, we encourages small organizations to have a solid website, e-mail list and a contact database before venturing into social media”, he quickly adds.

Blogs: Write Your Way to Success
If you want to build customer loyalty and industry credibility, start blogging now. Many platforms allow you to blog comfortably. Tumblr is always recommended for smaller businesses because it is customizable, extremely easy to learn to use, and has an additional component that allows you to follow people and re-blog their content easily.

Blogging takes disseminating information about your company a step beyond formal press releases, ads, marketing brochures and websites. That is where the magic happens in social media. A well-managed blog invites peoples' perspectives and provides an opening for real relationships to be formed which is a critical aspect of great customer service, and a good user experience. It can be a stepping stone to brand attachment.
That attachment doesn't have to equal a huge time commitment, but expect to spend an hour or two to knock out a post. The rewards are immediate: Blogs that are refreshed regularly get a boost in search engine rankings. They also help to establish you as an authority.

TIP: I’d suggest writing during evenings or on weekends to maximize regular working hours.

Twitter: To Tweet or Not to Tweet
There was a time when Social Media Marketing consultants used to advise companies to start with a blog, but now suggests getting on Twitter first. They also advocate engaging in conversation. Connecting with a business owner on Twitter produces the necessary personal touch so many clients and customers prefer and offers a time management tip for those tweeting entrepreneurs. [Free] mobile tools such as Tweetie and Tweetdeck can make it a lot easier to keep up with the ongoing conversation. That way, a company announcement of a new product or promotion could be tweeted with a link back to details on the company's blog or website, all while standing in a latte line.

The rapid-fire conversations on Twitter have the added bonus of giving entrepreneurs who've built a network, "instant answers to questions, feedback on brand elements, product ideas, etc.,

YouTube: Be a Star
Another way to capitalize on the fast pace of social media is by posting videos on YouTube. With a little creativity and relatively low overhead (Flip video cameras can be had for as little as $100) uploading a short clip can be a rapid way to test the market. "Release freebies to capture a niche. Then find the demand and create the product," says Viral Thaker.

To learn how to create good content just sit back and watch some viral videos. The payoff? You will reach a wider audience than with network TV.

LinkedIn: Business Networking Made Easier
A glowing recommendation is a gold star for any type of business, so why not collect and post them for all to see? It's easily done on LinkedIn. Creating a profile allows an entrepreneur to create an online career history, then to connect with others they've worked with. Obtaining a recommendation from a former colleague or existing client may help sway a potential investor or customer.

Additionally, LinkedIn provides the opportunity to connect with others who are also looking to create partnerships or to collaborate. Also note that LinkedIn has incorporated additional social networking capabilities such as special interest groups and open discussion threads. Digests from these groups can be delivered by e-mail to scan or read in-depth, depending on interest in the topic and how much time there is on hand.

The Bottom Line
Time is money, but the it's all about how you manage it. Previously wasted down time like sitting in taxis for 20 minutes or standing in a bank line for 10 minutes is now spent on my mobile phone, bouncing between Twitter and Facebook. It's getting easier and easier, and for branding an entrepreneur, I think it's golden.
No matter what the platform, the true value of social media is found in the conversation. You are not necessarily going to get 150 comments per day, but you are engaging a potential customer or client in the way you wouldn't in an ordinary day.

Should You Outsource Your Online Presence?

You can save time and money by leaving social media marketing to the pros.

Between blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and updating a LinkedIn profile, it's a wonder how a business owner has any time to answer e-mails and phone calls, much less run a company. But the time invested in social networking is well spent in this age where maintaining a social media presence can be a necessary piece of a successful marketing strategy.

Trouble is, as the number of platforms grows, so does the time it takes to feed and groom each account. Not to mention the front-end investment of setting everything up.

For those caught up in a social media blitz--and those contemplating taking the plunge--why not consider outsourcing? A Social Media Consultant can tackle those time-consuming tasks.

What Can a Social Media Consultant Do?
Many administrative professionals who provided support services such as correspondence, search engine optimization and event planning via the internet are now expanding to include social media. Now they can help with everything from recommending the right SM (Social Media) platforms and setting up profiles, to finding potential clients and networking groups and maintaining communication with them.

Conduct a Cost/Benefit Analysis
Busy business owners may be tempted to add those social media duties to an existing employee's responsibilities. But Viral Thaker of, a leading Social Media & Online Reputation Management Consulting firm cautions that keeping a personal profile on Facebook is very different than understanding how it can be used for branding.

"Unless they already have an employee who is well-versed in social media for marketing and increasing online visibility, the only advantage would be that they already know the business," he says.

Another advantage is cost savings. The business owner can save hours trying to add widgets to blogs or searching for relevant industry links and put them back into running the show.

Thaker points out SM Consultant usually charge by the hour, only for the time spent working. Though average hourly rates vary, a 2007 survey from the Global Social Media Network lists median fees between $30 and $40 and information from AssistU indicates rates can go up to $70 -$90 per hour depending on specializations and certifications.

The hidden costs of full-time staff disappear also. Business owners won't have to pay for employment taxes, benefits, office space or equipment. If the relationship with the SM Consultant doesn't work out, their contract can be terminated without the expense of unemployment insurance.

"A SM Consultant is also a business & brand owner," Thaker says. "We often view ourselves as a partner in the success of our client's business." He adds that this dynamic creates an entirely different working relationship than the one between an employee and an employer.

Have a Plan
If the business favors hiring a SM Consultant, it is time to think about goals. Thaker says it is important to determine if help is needed beyond creating and maintaining SM profiles, such as implementing, engagement and an overall social media strategy. "Having an idea of what they want the SM Consultant to do will help guide them to the person with the right skills, qualifications and knowledge."

He says business owners should be comfortable delegating and communicating consistently. "It can typically take between 60 and 90 days for SM Consultant to fully integrate and understand the client and their business so it's important for them to be prepared to provide information and be responsive during the early days of the working relationship."

Find the Right SM Consultant
Thaker recommends that one of the best ways to investigate a potential SM Consulting Company is by checking their existing social media profiles. "They need to show that they are participating in conversations and providing value," Thaker says, adding that they should also have excellent references. Active participation is the way for any business to grow quality content, Thaker says, and if the SM Consultant is already involved, they are more likely to be able to do the same for the business.

It is important for the SM Consultant to understand the operations and online etiquette of the top social media sites, as well as the mechanics of maintaining a blog and other current tools. For novice users, it is advised to ask for past results. "If the results simply involve using the tools themselves, skip them. Ask them to show business objectives that were met by their efforts," he says.

Also the assistant should know when not to use certain tools. "This is worth more than someone who makes a business jump through every hoop like they're checking boxes," he says.

Avoid Phony "Experts"
"Unfortunately the rapid rise of social media has seen an equally rapid increase in the number of experts, gurus and evangelists," Thaker says. "If someone has to call themselves a guru, there is a good chance they are not."

It is recommend to engage the SM Consultants who clearly present themselves as business owners. Ask if they do this full time or in addition to working another job, and find out if they have clear policies and pricing structures.

Put Your Best Face Forward
Opinions vary as to who should be creating the social media content. Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible, says he had an intern do the administrative set up for a lot of his accounts. However, he says, "Social media is about authenticity, sincerity, and transparency. Having someone write your blogs and tweets can be dangerous unless you are honest about it."

Safko says it can be done if an SM Consultant is open about the relationship, or if a busy executive dictates ideas into a digital recorder and the assistant transcribes them directly into blog posts. 

Whether going it alone, or with the help of a Social Media Consulting Companies - We are in 'Day One' of social media and our customers are now everywhere. Knowing how to leverage the tools gives you an edge.