Posts Tagged ‘Business Lists’

Top 5 Facebook Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make

02 Apr

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

While Facebook marketing is on the rise among small businesses, many are still struggling to master the basics.

“Many people have difficulty with just the basic Page set up,” says social media marketing consultant Nicole Krug. “For example, I still see people setting up their business as a profile page instead of a business Page. I have other clients who jumped into Groups when they came out and have divided their fan base.”

Here are five more common Facebook marketing mistakes to avoid:

1. Broadcasting

Ask any social marketing consultant what the number-one no-no is on Facebook, and he’ll likely tell you it’s “broadcasting” your messages instead of providing fans with relevant content and engaging on an continual basis.

“With Facebook, marketers of any size can do effective, word-of-mouth marketing at scale for the very first time. But Facebook is all about authenticity, so if your company is not being authentic or engaging with customers in a way that feels genuine, the community will see right through it,” says Facebook spokeswoman Annie Ta.

Peter Shankman, social media consultant, entrepreneur and author of “Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World,” agrees.

“Your job is to interact, not just to broadcast,” says Shankman. “Fans are looking for a reason to connect with you, and they’re showing you that by clicking ‘Like.’ Your job is to give them a reason to stay.”

According to Andy Smith, co-author of “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change,” many businesses immediately ask how Facebook is going to make them money and have that be the focus, as opposed to trying to engage customers and provide a meaningful, authentic online experience. “Marketers need to recognize that people go to Facebook to make a connection or feel like part of a community,” says Smith.

2. Not Investing Adequate Time

Another common mistake is underestimating the amount of time a successful Facebook strategy entails. Many social media consultants report seeing a pervasive “set it and forget it” mentality among small businesses.

“Some small business owners are under the impression that if they set up a Page on Facebook, that’s all they have to do. They think people will just naturally come and want to be a fan of their product or service,” says Taylor Pratt of Raven Internet Marketing Tools. “But it takes much more of a commitment than that.”

It’s not just fan growth that will suffer from this approach — it may also hurt your relationships with existing fans, particularly customers who have come to expect timely responses to their posts and queries.

“Unlike traditional advertising methods such as a radio spot or a Yellow Pages listing, you can’t just create a Facebook Page and just let it run its course,” says Alex Levine, a social media strategist at Paco Communications. “Creating a Facebook Page is the first of many steps, but the Page needs to be updated and monitored constantly.”

3. Being Boring or Predictable

When they’re thinking about marketing, some business owners forget that Facebook is a social place where people share things they find funny, interesting or useful with their friends. Think about what kind of content your fans would actually want to share when planning your posts.

Shankman also cautions against becoming too predictable. “Status updates by themselves get boring. But then again, so do photos, videos and multimedia as a whole. Your job is to mix it up. The moment you become predictable, boring or annoying, they’ll hide you from their feed. So keep it varied and personal — a video here, a photo here, a tag of one of your fans here.”

Creating too much “filler” content by auto-publishing content from your blog or Twitter feed can also derail your efforts. Joseph Manna, community manager at Infusionsoft, recommends using Facebook’s native publishing tools to gain the most benefit from Facebook.

“Whatever you do, DON’T automate everything,” says Manna. “It’s nice to ‘set and forget,’ but the risk is two-fold: publishing systems sometimes have issues, and Facebook places low-priority on auto-published content.”

4. Failing to Learn About Facebook Mechanics and Tools

Since Facebook is a relatively new medium, some businesses have yet to explore all its functionality and they’re missing out on creating an optimal brand experience.

“Many small businesses do not take advantage of the tools to introduce themselves to the Facebook audience,” says Krug. “For example, the ‘Info’ tab is rarely utilized well, and very few small businesses [create] a custom welcome page.”

Krug also sees frequent mistakes around one of the most basic elements of Facebook presence: the profile image. “Most companies upload a version of their logo, but the resulting thumbnail image that shows up in news feeds often only captures a few letters in the middle of their logo — this partial, meaningless image is then how they’re branded throughout Facebook,” says Krug.

Facebook Insights, Facebook’s built-in analytics system, is also often overlooked, and with it the opportunity to analyze post-performance to see what types of content gets the most engagement.

5. Violating Facebook’s Terms

Not only is it critical to know how Facebook works and what tools are available, it’s also important to know the rules of the road — something that many businesses miss.

“Every day I see organizations endangering the communities they are growing by violating the terms they agreed to when their Facebook presence was created,” says small business marketing consultant Lisa Jenkins.

What are the most common violations? Some build a community on a personal page instead of a proper Facebook Page. Others fail to abide by Facebook’s rules around running contests. And don’t even think about “tagging” people who are in an image without their permission.

“Tagging people to get their attention is not only a violation of Terms but can be reported by those you are tagging as abusive behavior on your part — which brings your violation to Facebook’s attention and opens your Page’s content to review,” warns Jenkins.

To avoid these common mistakes, invest time in learning about the Facebook platform, educate yourself on how to build and sustain an audience, and don’t forget to engage with people like you do in real life.

“What sets small businesses apart from large companies is their ability to make personal connections with customers,” says Ben Nesvig of FuzedMarketing. “They tend to forget this when they join Facebook, yet it’s their biggest strength and asset.”

More Facebook Resources from Mashable:

- 4 Ways to Set Up a Storefront on Facebook
- HOW TO: Add Social Sharing Buttons to Your Website
- The Future of Social Search
- 5 Creative Facebook Places Marketing Campaigns
- Dog: Man’s Best Facebook Friend, Too? [INFOGRAPHIC]

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What Marketers Need to Know About Facebook’s Switch to iFrames

24 Feb

Jeff Ente is the director of Who’s Blogging What, a weekly e-newsletter that tracks over 1,100 social media, web marketing and user experience blogs to keep readers informed about key developments in their field and highlight useful but hard to find posts. Mashable readers can subscribe for free here.

Facebook has recently announced a lengthy list of significant design and feature changes for Pages.

One particular item is emerging with perhaps the greatest challenge and the highest potential for Page owners — there is a new way to present custom content on Facebook Pages. Tabs and FBML are going away. Get ready to friend iFrames. Here’s a basic rundown and some tips on how to make the switch.

Background: Starting With a Clean Canvas

frame image

iFrames are not new. An iFrame is a standard HTML tag that allows one page to be inserted into another. It would seem like a pretty obvious way for Facebook Page owners to customize content, and Facebook did experiment with it a while ago before discovering security issues. But as of February 10, iFrames are back. Facebook Markup Language (FBML), which has been the primary custom content creation tool, is being deprecated.

FBML is a subset of HTML that has additional Facebook specific functions. For example, the FBML tag <fb:visible-to-connection> requires a user to “Like” a page in order to see certain content. Existing FBML Pages will still be supported, but new ones cannot be created as of March 11. There is no immediate need to worry about existing FBML based Pages. In the software world, the time horizon for “deprecated” is often measured in years, if not decades. Still, you’ll want to continually delight your Facebook visitors, which means that there are iFrames in your future.

Learning to Love iFrames

iframe chart image

The switch to iFrames means that developers can create dynamic web apps using their standard tools (HTML, CSS, PHP, ASP, JavaScript, Flash, etc.), register them as a Facebook “Canvas” app and then embed the app on a custom Page via the iFrame. Some limited info about the Facebook user is available through the API.

This all sounds much more complicated than it really is, and in fact it is probably simpler than the old process. Most developers are celebrating. “iFrames allow marketers the creativity and flexibility similar to that afforded by webpages, while developers can streamline integration with one process for Facebook canvas apps, Facebook Connect website widgets, and now Facebook custom Pages,” says Vikas Jain, director of business development for Wildfire Interactive. If you can create something for the web, respect Facebook’s ToS, and (preferably) hold it to 520 pixels in width, you can now present it as custom Facebook Page content.

Great content is only the start. Page owners can now have a more direct relationship with their Facebook visitors. “Right now the implications are countless,” says Patrick Stokes, chief product officer for Buddy Media. “Conversion tracking is probably the first thing that marketers should be focusing on. iFrames mean that you will be able to recognize the visitor, track their source and note their IP address in order to present a customized response. These capabilities are much stronger through iFrames than they are in FBML”.

Mark Spangler, director of client services at Stuzo|Dachis Group is also expecting “exciting personalization options which should now appear seamless to the user: Customized landing views based on user location or referral source, dynamically updating the view for specific content, loading of Flash elements and interactive front-end features which formerly could not initially load on custom Pages.”

But don’t expect things to change overnight. This is a change that lies firmly in a divide between the aspirations of the marketing department and the freshly fueled capabilities of web developers. Companies that can bridge that gap wisely will likely see the best and fastest results. Involver’s VP of marketing Jascha Kaykas-Wolff is advising marketers to proceed slowly and plan carefully for the best results. “The switch from FBML to iFrames is not earth-shattering right now. However, in the future — and as Facebook evolves their ToS — iFrames will allow for a much more immersive experience consistent with your brand’s corporate experience. The evolution of Facebook becoming the replacement for the branded micro-site is well on its way.”

Using Facebook

frame image

The best and simplest news for Facebook marketers is that they may not have to try and pull someone away from Facebook to get them onto their site. There are now better options for accomplishing their sales or branding goals entirely within Facebook. “We’ve found, in doing Facebook ad testing, that Facebook ad respondents tend to convert better when they land on a page within Facebook,” observes Search Mojo CEO Janet Miller. “iFrames now opens up a whole new world of possibilities for what can be delivered, including e-commerce, directly through a Facebook Page.”

Some of the selling may first have to occur internally as social media initiatives frequently need to fight for budget. Linda Bustos, director of e-commerce research with Elastic Path Software, notes, “Any new web development poses a challenge for social media. C-level execs want to see ROI from social initiatives — something that has historically been hard to prove.” In this case, she points to the improved tracking capabilities and the ability to monitor activity via Google Analytics as a unique opportunity to measure social media costs versus benefits. Additionally, businesses should find it easier to convert existing web apps for Facebook use with iFrames.

The Endgame for iFrames?

The concept of businesses investing money to keep users on Facebook may seem like part of Facebook’s master plan. It probably is. Will Facebook Pages evolve into self-contained store fronts? “It will be interesting to see how Facebook handles this. One possibility is that they will require that all transactions be transacted in Credits, which is how they would get their cut,” speculates Buddy Media’s Patrick Stokes.

iFrames for Pages may be a win-win for all sides but it will require planning and some investment. As always with Facebook, you can’t ignore the huge user base, and you have to be open to new opportunities to interact. iFrames is very much a work in progress that warrants serious attention.

Disclosure: Buddy Media is a Mashable sponsor.

More Business Resources from Mashable:

- How 5 Companies Are Using the iPad to Increase Productivity
- How The iPad Is Helping Businesses Go Green
- How Facebook Deals Are Helping One NBA Team Connect With Fans
- 4 Small Business Mobile Predictions for 2011
- How Brands Can Make the Most of Facebook’s New Pages

More About: business, facebook, facebook pages, iframes, MARKETING

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23 Free, Web-Based Tools SMBs Are Asking for Now

18 Dec

Small Business Image

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

In an informal Twitter poll, we asked our friends working at or running small and medium-sized businesses not what they could do for the Internet, but what the Internet could do for them.

We heard responses that ranged widely, running the gamut from social media marketing tools to internal team communications. Here’s a list of great resources for SMBs that meet some of the most pressing needs you experience as a business owner or entrepreneur.

Best of all, every single one of these tools can be used free of charge (some have paid options for larger businesses or for those that need more features). And all of them are web-based; that means you won’t have to install software, worry about cross-platform compatibility, take up any of your own system’s resources or have to leave work when you leave your own PC.

If you have other tools you love using that you think other SMBs could benefit from, please let us know about them in the comments.

2 Internal Chat Tools

When you want to get your employees or clients together to brainstorm, make decisions or simply run your business, instant messaging can be a huge time-saver — especially if you’re working with a distributed team or out-of-town clients and vendors. While we love programs like Skype for business chat and conference calls, it may not be installed on every machine you have to use. These web-based group chat programs solve that problem.

Zoho’s web-based chat client allows you to create and chat with groups. You can easily share your desktop with co-workers, and you can integrate your calendar for quick appointment or meeting scheduling. Best of all, Zoho’s IM service also supports all kinds of IM clients, including Yahoo and AIM.

Another good online group chat service is Gixaw. With this service, you can create a unique URL for chatting with your group. You can share files, create multiple “rooms” for different projects or departments, and even search through chat history.

2 Task Management Tools

As your business and number of employees grow, you may need a central place for delegating tasks, monitoring progress and ensuring everything gets done correctly and on time.

HiTask is a free, web-based task management tool perfect for SMBs. It has a user-friendly, easy interface for your to-do lists and for team or project management. With HiTask, you can work on recurring events, make assignments, sort tasks based on priority and more, all within a simple drag-and-drop UI.

Another great task management tool is RememberTheMilk. Don’t be fooled by its homemaker-ish name. This web app has been widely acclaimed over the past several years, and it works for individuals as well as small teams. RTM integrates with Gmail and Outlook, and the service has mobile apps for Windows, Android, iPhone and BlackBerry.

8 Social Media Marketing and Monitoring Tools

One of the categories SMBs ask for the most help with is social media. You need to quickly and easily keep an eye on what people are saying about you; more importantly, you need to participate in the social media conversation yourself, without drowning hours upon endless hours bouncing around various websites.

There are three great tools we’d recommend for pushing out updates to a variety of sites at once. All three have free, web-based services, and they’re great for working with teams, too. Depending on your specific needs and tastes, you could try out Hootsuite, Seesmic and TweetDeck.

If you want to see what people are saying about your company, your product, your location or your vertical in real time, try searching for relevant terms on Collecta or SocialMention.

You also have options for network-specific monitoring tools. To see how your tweets are performing, try CrowdBooster. And remember, Twitter’s official analytics product is coming soon, too. For Facebook, use that social network’s Insights dashboard for your business’s Facebook Page.

3 Bookkeeping Tools

When it comes to keeping your finances straight, there are also several free, online tools just right for SMBs.

You can try, accounting software made just for recording and processing small business transactions, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank balances and more. It also gives you forms for invoicing, purchases and bank reconciliation and allows you to set up customers and vendors.

The desktop version of QuickBooks is a standard feature of many SMBs. This web-based version of QuickBooks is free and perfect for the new or smaller business. You can use QuickBooks Online to create invoices, pay bills, track expenses and more.

Finally, MoneyTrackin’ is a free web app for simply and quickly tracking your revenue and expenses. You can also share budgets and collaborate with many people together on the same account. MoneyTrackin’ lets you control as many accounts as you need to and tag your transactions; the service is also available as a handy mobile web app.

5 Cloud-Based File Hosting Tools

For sharing and storing large files, Google Docs will allow you to share a wide range of files — including PDFs, spreadsheets, images and much more — free of charge for the first 1024 MB. And believe us, it can take quite a while to get to 1024 MB of content. Google Docs files are easy to keep private and easy to share with others, including clients and team members. Plus, you’ll have a relatively stable company on your side, which isn’t necessarily the case when the startup hosting your files gets bought by Facebook and shuts its doors, for example.

However, if you’d rather go the small-web-company route, there are lots of options for moving large files around the Internet.

If you just need to e-mail a large file to another person, try YouSendIt, which lets you e-mail a link for downloading files up to 2 GB. If you’d like to permanently or semi-permanently store rather than just e-mail your files, you could try Esploded, which lets you create a free account, upload your files and create groups for sharing files. There’s also Dropbox, FilesAnywhere and, all of which offer free and paid memberships, just depending on your business’s size and needs.

3 Hiring and Applicant-Tracking Tools

Last of all, as you grow, finding and hiring great new staff members becomes increasingly important and requires more of your attention — and likely greater organization.

Zoho Recruit is free for one person to use. It lets you schedule interviews, add and manage candidates, store resumes and publish job openings from within a simple but robust dashboard.

SmartRecruiters is hiring software that helps users create job ads and post them all over the web, including major job boards and social networks. You can consolidate all your applicants in one place, prescreen them online, share the best candidates with your co-workers or executives, schedule interviews and even rate the candidates all from within the app.

iKrut is an interesting free recruitment system. You can build your own recruitment microsite quickly; from there, you can list all your current job openings on this new career portal. Candidates visit the microsite to upload their résumés and cover letters for you to review. This all also allows for interview scheduling and organizing references. Microsites can be branded to match your own website, and the system has built-in messaging.

More Business Resources from Mashable:

- 10 Ways Business Leaders Can Turn Ideas Into Execution
- 7 Tips for Building a Better Branded App
- 9 Web Tools to Keep Your Business Running Smoothly During the Holidays
- 5 iPhone Apps For Avoiding International Business Faux Pas
- 7 Tips for Succeeding as a Social Media Strategist

Images courtesy of Flickr, in order of appearance, by danox, inlinguamanchester, esther17, tsevis, nhankamer, takashi, socialisbetter.

Reviews: Android,, Dropbox, Flickr, Google Docs, HootSuite, Internet, Seesmic, Skype, TweetDeck, Twitter, Windows, aim, gmail

More About: applicant manager, bookkeeping, business, Business Lists, chat, cloud database, free online tools, hiring, List, Lists, online tools, small business, smb, social media marketing, social monitoring tools, task management

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7 Tips for Succeeding as a Social Media Strategist

08 Dec

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

The role of social media is expanding rapidly and many organizations of all types are trying to stay afloat amidst the changes. Meanwhile, a small group of innovators pulls the industry onward.

In the past few years, the social media marketing role has become increasingly present, leading the way to more strategic social media programs. Enter the social media strategist.

Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst at Altimeter Group, a digital strategy consulting firm, recently spoke at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association Summit about the career path of the corporate social strategist, touching on current responsibilities and challenges, as well as the future of the role. His presentation was based on months of research funded by Altimeter, in which 140 enterprise-class social strategists across various industries were interviewed. Other online sources, such as LinkedIn and blogs, were consulted to gather job descriptions, profile work histories and catalog the ebb and flow of new hires in the social media space.

Owyang presented seven key tips for building a successful social media program and focused on how social media strategists can facilitate those successes. Read his tips below and add your thoughts in the comments.

1. Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Owyang pointed to a funny, but oh-so-true anecdote that happened while he was collecting research for this study. While interviewing a social media strategist, the phone conversation was stopped abruptly as the strategist confessed, “Jeremiah, I’ve gotta go. There are two people standing in front of my office demanding Facebook Pages.” If they didn’t get the Pages, they were going to build them on their own.

While it’s somewhat hilarious to imagine two professionals camping in front of their colleague’s office until they get their doggone Facebook Pages, it’s equally as sad to realize that these instances actually happen in the corporate world. If this is happening in your organization, take a step back, look at the chaos, take a deep breath and then do something about it.

“A proactive mindset is required,” Owyang said. “You cannot wait for the company to catch up to you. You have to go to the business units and tell them what is required [to participate in your company's social media program] before they ask you for a Facebook Page. Make a list of requirements: dialogue, ready for conversations 24/7, ongoing commitment, two-way communications. Make it clear what’s expected, before they ask you.”

Being proactive and having guidelines will help alleviate stressful moments like the one described above, where being reactive is usually status quo.

2. Be a Program Manager, Not Evangelist

As social media programs become more sophisticated, Owyang believes that employees currently in the social media evangelist roles will move on to “the next thing,” evangelizing new technologies. But with an ongoing need for social media programming, a new role for social media program managers will emerge.

“Quickly switch hats,” Owyang advises social media strategists who want to stay relevant to businesses that have evolving needs. “It’s time to take off the evangelism hat and put on the program manager hat. A new skill set is going to be required, and a program manager is responsible for resources, timelines, Gantt charts, ROI models, analytics, data modeling, resource management, project management. It’s a very different skill set than the evangelist role that we’ve seen before.”

3. Educate Your Business Units

“Educate your business units ahead of time, and give them the information that they need,” said Owyang.

He is an advocate of testing employees to measure digital and social media proficiencies, pointing to Intel’s Digital IQ test as a great example of aptitude measurement. “You can take this online test before you participate in social media and become certified in that particular program,” he said. “That’s one of the more advanced programs that we’ve seen.”

In its official Social Media Guidelines, Intel clearly defines Digital IQ training as a responsibility for all employees taking part in social media on behalf of the company.

It’s important to not only lay down guidelines, but to also provide training for employees who want to learn more and get involved in the social media program.

4. Organize for Success

Five ways companies organize their social media teams

During his presentation, Owyang presented five models in which companies organize their social media teams — decentralized, centralized, hub and spoke, dandelion and holistic, as pictured and described above. He highly recommends that social media programs be organized in hub and spoke or dandelion models in order to scale.

In the hub and spoke model, there’s typically a cross-functional team that’s serving multiple business units, with the strategists at the center of the formation — 41% of the organizations that Owyang interviewed fell under this category.

Within large companies with multiple brands or units, such as Microsoft or HP, the dandelion (or “multiple hub and spoke”) model is common, where multiple social media strategists lead individual business areas or brands across the company.

There are three steps necessary in order to reach a hub and spoke or dandelion organization, according to Owyang:

  1. “Set up governance: policies, legal, some executive buy-in.”
  2. “Roll out processes: who does what, where, when and how — a triage system. How does information flow through your company? Publish that diagram on the Internet.”
  3. “Launch an ongoing education program.”

“If you do those three things in that order, it’s very likely your company will form in hub and spoke with you in the hub,” stated Owyang.

5. Be an Enabler

It is unrealistic to think that one strategist can stay at the center of every social media effort or that he or she could even hire enough community managers to stay on top of an entire enterprise’s social activity. In light of that reality, Owyang believes that it is crucial for social media strategists to slip into the mindset of an enabler. He explains:

“Remember, social media does not scale. You cannot manage every social media program, campaign or effort. You now have to become an enabler to teach the business units to do it on their own — that’s the only way you’re going to be able to scale anyway. You become an internal consultant, an internal resource to help the entire business.”

6. Deploy Scalable Social Media Programs

Communities, advocacy programs, social media management systems (like CoTweet and HootSuite), and Social Customer Relationship Management (SCRM) — the practice of connecting social networks to your existing CRM system — are all worthwhile social media efforts, according to Owyang, because they are scalable.

“Dialogue does not scale,” Owyang reiterated multiple times. “One-to-one communications does not scale… You can’t possibly do it. What scales? Community programs — getting your customers to do the work for you. Advocacy programs — Microsoft MVP, Intel Insiders, SAP Mentors, Oracle Aces, Walmart Moms — those are advocacy programs, when you take your best customers and you give them a platform and let them do the work for you, and you don’t pay them. Those are scalable programs.”

While it’s important to set up channels for communication with customers, make sure your programs can expand as the company and community grow.

7. Transcend Marketing

The report found that 71% of social media programs fall under the domain of marketing or corporate communications. In order to make an impact, though, Owyang says that social media programs must transcend marketing. Strategists should take note and act accordingly.

“Over time, think about how you can be more than ‘marketing,’” suggests Owyang. “Think about how you can apply [social media] to support and service and the physical, real-world customer experience — and improve products and experiences.”

Owyang’s seven insights into succeeding as a social media strategist should have social media programs shaping up in no time. What would you add to his advice? Let us know in the comments below.

View Jeremiah Owyang’s WOMMA Summit presentation below:

More Business Resources from Mashable:

- HOW TO: Define a Social Media Strategy for Enterprise
- Social Media Success: 5 Lessons From In-House Corporate Teams
- HOW TO: Get the Most Out of a Coworking Space
- How the Fortune 500 Use Social Media to Grow Sales and Revenue
- Beyond Viral: How Successful Marketers Are Embracing the Social Web

Image copyright of Gary Michael and courtesy of WOMMA.

Reviews: CoTweet, Facebook, HootSuite, Internet, LinkedIn, pages

More About: business, corporate social media, Corporate Social Strategist, Jeremiah Owyang, social media, social media strategist, social media strategy

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5 Ways to Sell Your Expertise Online

29 Nov

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

As a small business owner or entrepreneur, the lessons you learn are valuable. Not only will those lessons help you succeed in your core business, but that expertise has value for your peers. Sharing your expertise and becoming a thought leader in your industry can help you to attract new customers and develop lucrative, long-term business relationships.

Beyond that, however, your expertise can also be utilized as a separate revenue stream in its own right. In 2008, the folks at software company 37signals announced that they had turned their expertise into revenue streams worth more than three quarters of a million dollars in just a couple of years. Here are five ways that you can follow in their footsteps and leverage your existing expertise too.

1. Newsletters

You may already have an e-mail newsletter, and it’s probably a great tool for customer retention. There’s a lot of value in being able to reach out to customers with news about your products or services, offer discounts and provide value-added content that keeps people interested. But have you considered offering a more premium, paid newsletter? Whatever your business, you likely have expertise that people will be willing to pay for. Restaurants could offer a monthly newsletter with recipes using seasonal foods, for example, or a gym could offer a weekly newsletter with exercises and tips on staying healthy.

TinyLetter and are two new services that allow you to quickly and easily create and sell subscription-based e-mail newsletter.

2. Consulting

The lessons and skills you’ve acquired over the course of building a successful business have immense value to your peers. People will pay for that knowledge if you offer it via a consulting service. While many startups are bootstrapped using funds raised by consulting gigs, it’s unlikely that as a busy small business owner you’ll have the time to put hours into consulting. Still, by setting aside a few hours each week or taking on a couple of consulting clients, you can build a healthy secondary revenue stream and potentially be introduced to unique investment opportunities.

One easy way to sell your advice is Ether. Ether is a web app that provides users with a toll-free 888 telephone number that forwards to your existing phone line. You set when the number is available and how much you want to charge, then you just open for business during your “office hours.”

3. E-Books

E-books are old school and they take a little more upfront investment, but they’re potentially very lucrative. 37signals pulled in $350,000 by selling downloads of its first business advice e-book, Getting Real. People could be willing to pay for your expertise, as well. A mechanic, for example, could sell a series of e-books on do-it-yourself auto and motorcycle repair. If you’re a pet groomer, what about an e-mail about caring for dogs? Think about what you know and about how it could be expanded into a 40- or 50-page book.

Once you’ve created your book, you can sell it as a PDF download using a service like DPD or PayLoadz. For a more complete, end-to-end solution, try TradeBit, which offers a marketplace, or Lulu, which can also turn your e-book into a printed book.

4. Webinars

Webinars might be the ultimate way to sell your expertise. By holding a paid webinar, you’re literally charging people to watch you talk about and demonstrate whatever it is that you have to share. Because you’re offering people access directly to you (the expert), webinars are worth the money to your peers. Software like WebEx can allow you to stream presentations, audio and video to up to 3,000 participants. You can take questions from your audience in real-time and the platform offers built-in ecommerce, so you can charge for access.

Also check out solutions from GoToMeeting and Adobe, though you’ll have to handle payment yourself.

5. Online Courses

If live events aren’t your cup of tea and static e-books don’t convey your message clearly enough, another way to sell your expertise is by offering an online course. Using an app like Litmos, Odijoo or WiZiQ, you can create and sell web-based classes that not only share your expertise but teach it step-by-step. You can include multimedia in your courses, additional reading material (maybe you could even include your e-book as required reading), and provide tests so that participants can assess their progress.

Have you ever made money by selling your expertise online?

More Business Resources from Mashable:

- The State of Small Business Online Marketing Budgets [REPORT]
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Image courtesy of iStockphoto, mgkaya

Reviews: adobe AIR, iStockphoto

More About: adobe connect, consulting, dpd, ebooks, email newsletters, Ether, expertise, gotomeeting,, lulu, newsletters, payloadz, small business, tinyletter, tradebit, Webex, webinars

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4 Misconceptions About Marketing in Social Games

27 Nov

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Social games, like FarmVille, Mafia Wars and MyTown, racked up a number of high-value brand partnerships during the past year, and the social gaming industry in general is seeing huge interest from investors and consumers.

The top 10 Facebook games, for example, all have more than 10 million monthly active users each, with FarmVille leading at 62 million monthly active users, followed by FrontierVille at nearly 37 million and Zynga Poker with nearly 33 million. Granted, these are small portions of Facebook’s total network of more than 500 million users. But with a budding industry like social gaming, these are still impressive numbers, especially given the growth that these games are experiencing — all of the top 10 games were launched after 2008, with the top three games being launched after mid-2009.

The U.S. population alone is also a good indicator of user adoption — one in five Americans over the age of six have played an online social game, according to a recent study.

Increased user activity has spurred attention from investors. From an acquisition point of view, we witnesed Disney’s $763.2 million acquisition of Playdom, Electronic Arts’s $400 million acquisition of Playfish, and Google’s acquisition of Slide. Regarding investment, the big winner this year is Zynga, having now raised a total of $366 million.

Brands are taking notice and acting quickly, implementing innovative ways to advertise in social games and capitalize on the rise of virtual gaming.

Carree Syrek, a partner in social media strategy at Mindshare, a global media and marketing services company, recently spoke at ad:tech on the common misconceptions that companies have about marketing in social games. Here’s are the four concerns she discussed.

1. My Audience Doesn’t Play Social Games

Brands often look at social gaming as something that only a niche group of gamers partake in, but multiple surveys show that social gaming actually appeals to a much broader audience than most would expect. One early 2010 survey found that the average social gamer was a 43-year-old female.

“One of the biggest things that I hear when I talk to brands is ’social gamers are moms. They’re middle-aged moms,’” said Syrek. “But actually, this is not the case. Each of the games or the worlds that you’re in have very specific audiences that you wouldn’t necessarily see unless you dug a little bit deeper.”

Syrek pointed to the disparity between FarmVille and Mafia Wars demographics as an example of diversity among social gamers, as presented in the 2010 PopCap Social Gaming Research Results.

  • FarmVille pulls an audience that is 62% female, 33% of its audience is between 18 and 34 years old, and the average income is between $60,000 and $100,000. The FarmVille audience is also 84% caucasian and 7% Hispanic.
  • Mafia Wars’s audience, on the other hand, is 51% female, with 28% of the audience between 18 and 34 years old, and the average income falling below $30,000. Seventy-one percent of Mafia Wars users are caucasian, while 17% are African American.

Syrek clarified that raw numbers don’t explain the full story, pointing to index numbers as a way to better understand an audience. Index numbers are used in marketing research and indicate the strength to which a certain demographic is represented on a site or service, generally with a weighted base number of 100 representing the average Internet user.

“There are different ways to segment for ethnicity if you’re going after specific markets,” she stated. “The numbers in parentheses [as pictured above] are index numbers. So, you can see that even though, say in Mafia Wars, the African American segment is only 17% of the people who play that, their index is 198. So, you’ve got a really receptive market there that you can tap into.”

“The point is that you can actually dig deep, and you can find the proper environment for your target demographic,” stated Syrek.

Before writing off social gamers as middle-aged moms or male teenagers, be sure to look at the types of games out there and learn about their audiences — you may find that your audience is present on a few niche social games.

2. Virtual Worlds Are Not for “Serious” Companies

“I think it’s important to note that there’s a place here for everyone. It’s not just about the Jolly Green Giant being in FarmVille… it doesn’t have to be that literal, and there are spots for everyone here to play,” said Syrek.

It is a misconception that advertising in social games is only territory for entertainment brands or brands that want to be seen as “fun.” On the contrary, many serious brands were discussed during Syrek’sad:tech session.

Linda Gangeri, manager of national advertising for Volvo Cars of North America, discussed Volvo’s recent campaign on MyTown, in which Volvo’s strategy was to “leverage location-based services to deliver Volvo-branded messaging and virtual goods to people checking in to competing dealerships.”

Upon launching the Volvo S60, the Volvo marketing team decided to test virtual goods as a way to build awareness for the new vehicle.

“It was a 30-day campaign from September 1 to September 30,” explained Gangeri. During the 30-day period, 5.3 million Volvo-branded checkins were reached, 1.3 million Volvo-branded virtual goods (including a steering wheel, a wheel, the Volvo iron mark and the S60 vehicle) were delivered, and 20,000 clicks to “See the S60 in Action” were logged, for a click-through rate (CTR) of 1.5%, which is much higher than the CTRs that the rest of the marketing industry is accustomed to.

“It gave us the opportunity to dig deeper, to immerse ourselves in an environment where people are having fun [and are] engaged, and then to take branded items, embed them and expose them to this huge audience of people,” said Gangeri, happy with the results of the campaign.

3. It’s Always About Capitalism

Within social gaming, the virtual goods market is the top revenue driver for social game creators — virtual goods makes up 90% of Zynga’s revenue, for example. Social gamers are willing to buy digital goods in order to improve their positions in the games. This is great for game creators, obviously, as they are technically selling nothing. Users buy fake shovels and tractors to tend to their fake fields. There’s a lot of money in that — the U.S. virtual goods market is predicted to pass $2 billion in 2011.

While the money is certainly there, social gaming and the virtual goods market aren’t always about capitalism. In fact, Syrek mentioned four examples of social good on social gaming platforms:

  • Pet adoptions in YoVille raised $90,000 for SF/SPCA during the spring of 2009.
  • Teddy bear purchases in Mafia Wars raised more than $100,000 for Coalition for the Cure (Huntington’s Disease) in March 2010.
  • The Pandaren Monk pet in World of Warcraft generated $1.1 million in donations for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
  • To date, Zynga players have raised more than $3 million in connection with social partnerships, the majority of which has been directed to the welfare of women and children in Haiti.

These cases illustrate that social games could be a good route for for-profit or non-profit businesses hoping to raise a little awareness for social good projects.

4. Social Games Are a Fad

Social networking dominates most people’s time spent online, but next in line is online gaming, Nielsen reported in August. Of course, social gaming only accounts for a portion of that sector, but still, the fact that social networking and online gaming dominate online activity is a nod to the growing importance of social gaming.

Syrek pointed to the 2010 PopCap Social Gaming Research Results to validate her argument that social gaming isn’t a fad. The study found that 24% of U.S. and UK Internet users play social games at least once a week, and that most social gamers play other genres of games, including casual and hardcore games.

In another portion of the session, Manny Anekal, director of brand advertising at Zynga, illustrated that users are spending a lot of time playing social games. FarmVille users average a whopping 68 minutes of FarmVille play per day and Mafia Wars users average 52 minutes per day on the game, according to April 2010 Cisco Security Intelligence Operation data, for example. It’s no secret that social games are engaging (and addictive), but who knew users were spending so much time tending to virtual farms and brawls?

While it is admittedly difficult to decide if social gaming is truly a fad or not, data points toward its continued and growing popularity.

What are your thoughts on marketing in social games? Let us know in the comments below.

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