Small Business Opinion | LinkedIn VS Facebook – What is best for Small Business?

Recently. I got posed a question following my blog post about the benefits of LinkedIn, “Can Facebook ever rival LinkedIn for small business use?” It’s an interesting point. Both sites excel in different ways.

Facebook – More than just Farmville

A well organised Facebook profile for a business is a hugely valuable tool. It’s fair to say that Facebook is becoming increasingly embedded in Internet users’ everyday lives and the site currently boats in the region of 400 million active users; over half of them log into the site daily.

A look at Facebook’s own demographics shows that 1.5 million local businesses have active fan pages and these have been ‘fanned’ by more than 5.3 billion people. Indeed, on an average day, 20 million users fan a page on Facebook. That’s a vast number, and a little shy of half the total users registered on LinkedIn. If you get Facebook right, the benefits are obvious.

LinkedIn – Not just a job board

LinkedIn as I’ve previously discussed has a largely professional audience, according to the sites own analytics, over 52% of Linkedin’s users would be considered business decision-makers, with an average annual income of $107,000.

That said, both sites have their obvious strengths, weaknesses and of course, similarities. You can create a personal profile, update a status, blog, join and form groups, and network with new people you may or may not have met yet. Another similarity of the platforms is the integration with Twitter, widely acknowledged as a leading traffic driver these days.

What is best for small business?

To work out which is best suited to your businesses need, first answer this question, “Who do I want to reach; Consumers or other businesses?” This simple question will largely dictate which platform is best for you.

If you are trying to reach a consumer audience, or perhaps you’re a not-for-profit organisation, Facebook would be your number one choice. Most people use the site as a way of connecting with friends and family, not to talk business, but don’t forget, these friends are potential customers too.

Since Facebook launched fan pages last year, its opened a whole new sphere of business interest. Fan pages allow you to build specific tabs to your own design with Facebook’s own take on HTML code, Facebook Markup Language (FBML) and most importantly, customize the URL for the page too. Additionally, you can integrate with Flickr and display galleries and photo streams of images, host polls, videos, documents and include any number of 75,000 other applications too. This post by Social Media Hound describes the benefits in more detail.

LinkedIn is a very different beast and if you’re looking to target key business decision makers, look no further than this site. Unlike Facebook, most people on LinkedIn are there for business reasons only. Indeed, gone is the relaxed and friendly attitude of Facebook; LinkedIn demands the same level of professionalism as the workplace. The purpose is to be able to network — to have access to your contacts’ contacts, and in that way further your professional outlook. You want to find a job? A new sales opportunity? Information about a client? Here’s a way to do that.

With over 55 million professionals on its books, LinkedIn really is THE address book for communicating with businesses. Neat features such as recommendation and groups allow you to offer thought and obtain feedback and opinion from peers, building you and your businesses brand.

That’s my twopenneth on the subject, but leave a comment and let me know what you think about these two platforms. Which would you choose for your business?

Small Business Advice | Online Brand Management

I don’t need to spell out the inexorable rise of Facebook and Twitter and other social media tools over the last five years or so. And, because of this we’re all aware that there’s never been a time when the voice of the world could be heard either so easily, or so audibly. Although it’s exciting to see that the thoughts and actions of millions can now be broadcast instantaneously around the globe, it can have major implications for business – particularly those organisations with a keen eye on managing everything from reputation through to customer service. Those firms that can get a grip on what others are saying about them and react to it in real time, stand a much greater chance of improving customer loyalty and developing a respected brand.

Despite some of the negativity surrounding social media, jumping aboard the social media train can be a really worthwhile pursuit.  There is little doubt that if done correctly, social media can be an invaluable tool that will bring you closer to your customers, colleagues and business partners, improving the overall running and future of your business. However, the trick is not to rush into it. Remember that you’re businesses reputation has never been so valuable, and that a heavy handed approach can leave your business quite vulnerable. Here are a few things that I’d suggest considering before you venture into the world of social media:

Know your brand and understand your audience – it’s crucial to have firm grasp on the image and brand of your business. Set aside some time to put together a definitive plan of the direction and tone of your company, and analyse the profile of your audience. Maintain audience engagement and trust by staying consistent. Use a tool like Radian 6 which provides a dashboard to monitor, review, and analyses your brand within the corresponding social networking community.

Be prepared for the positive and the negative – social media allows you to create a 3D personality for your company. It’s a chance to really reinforce your brand and interact with customers in real time. However, you must be prepared to accept that there may be criticisms and they will be public. A useful tool to help monitor this is Scoutlabs, which allows you to see posts or conversations, track word association and delivers an automated sentiment so you know whether the chatter online about you is good, bad or neutral.

Invest time in execution and evaluation – creating a profile on one of the social media channels isn’t a standalone solution; you need to invest time and effort. Friends, fans and followers will soon lose interest if your messages are sporadic or irrelevant. A team or individual dedicated to social media will not only aid you in getting your profile out there, but it will help to monitor responses and track trend changes. Sysomos provides a 360 view of social media conversations from all social channels including forums, video sites, blogs, social networks, and media.There are many tools and services designed to make your social media experience an easy and productive one, so don’t be afraid to use them. Don’t be intimidated by the scale of the market, just be brave and stay true to your brand.

David

Small Business Basics | Are You LinkedIn or Out?

During the past eighteen months, the popularity of social media has exploded. Hundreds of millions of consumers have begun ‘liking’ Facebook, tweeting on Twitter and we’re all becoming ‘LinkedIn’ to the new knowledge economy. Amongst my colleagues at Cisco we’ve seen a noticeable change and we’ve all begun testing new apps, sites and blogs; Twitter has seen the competitive streak in us all come out as we try and up our followers!

With all the recent talk of Twitter and Facebook, it’s easy to forget the oldest, and one of the most useful social media tools that has quietly been arming itself for the challenge ahead. LinkedIn was founded in 2003 and now has in excess of 50 million active users. Users spread across a range of demographics and in the last twelve months, it’s become an invaluable tool for savvy small businesses looking to market themselves to a wider audience. In fact, the number of ways LinkedIn can be used is quite varied.

We recently asked our followers on Twitter how they use LinkedIn and we got some interesting responses. Varying from a social network for ‘adults’, networking tool, job board and several stated as a discussion forum, it would appear that LinkedIn is just about whatever you want it to be.

“How does this relate to me and my business?” you might ask. Well, LinkedIn is a huge resource for small businesses and enables you to connect with organisations outside your normal circles. Where else can you directly message potential clients, find new staff and have a peer network of several million, all in one place? If you’re not on LinkedIn, this should give you plenty of reason to get involved and create a presence for your business on the site.

In my next post, I’ll explain how to get the most from LinkedIn, and show you that while the Internet is constantly changing, one thing remains true;“it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.

David

Small Business Advice | Managing the impact of South Africa 2010

When the first World Cup match between host nation South Africa and Mexico kicks off on Friday, businesses up and down the country will be worried about more than just the results achieved on a pitch in South Africa as football fever kicks in (pun entirely intended). In fact, a more pressing concern for most business owners will be ensuring the attention of their staff is focused on work as well as play. Striking a balance between maintaining a happy workforce and guaranteeing uninterrupted results is an unenviable task and one which may have decision makers across the UK scratching their heads.

world cup

One of the key steps to implementing an effective working programme is getting both the policy and technology right. By sitting down and devising a clear strategy for staff during the World Cup the stress in the long run will be greatly reduced.  

 

In the first instance you’ll need to think about which line you wish to toe. Be sure to draw up a strategy that best suits the individual needs of your business. If the running of your organisation is built on frequent and tight deadlines or requires stringent attention to detail then this needs to be considered. To avoid schedule clashes, missed deadlines or overlapping holidays you may want to design a rota which can be displayed on the staff notice board or intranet.

If you are concerned about the potential distraction caused by live streamed games, blogs and up to the second team updates then limit the number of sites that staff can access. Draw up a list of accepted sites and set your firewall and security settings to reflect this. Make sure your list of approved sites is communicated to staff so that they are clear on what they can and cannot access.

You may consider allowing flexible working during the World Cup but if you do, make sure you have the right tools in place to support it. If you are planning or allowing time out of the office to watch matches then make certain staff are still easily reached via mobile devices. If a match is being shown in the office make sure there remains a safe space for quiet business and calls to be conducted as necessary.

It’s also worth setting aside time after the first few matches to assess how effective the policy has been so far. The aim is to create an environment that best serves your business, so don’t be afraid to make a few tweaks to the original plan.

So with your policy in place and your staff well briefed all that’s left to worry about is Capello’s boys getting to the final!

Small Business Opinion | Leasing to Stay Up in a Down Economy

As the new government settles into power, lots of people are looking back at what type of world the global economic downturn has left us with. I thought it apt to do similar.

There’s no denying that the downturn made life difficult for businesses of all shapes and sizes. However, for every cloud there is a silver lining.  In many ways the smartest and most prudent organisations run their operations as if they were always in a recession.

It’s always smart to scrutinise every area of your cash flow and expenditures; then assess just how hard your capital is working for you. One area in which many organisations can make their expenditures more efficient is the means by which they acquire technology.  In tough economic times, successful companies rely on technology to make their employees more productive, decrease travel expenses, reach new markets and elevate customer service. None of which are easily done.

HOW TO BUY

For a small business, calling or mailing your usual supplier for a simple purchase can often seem the easiest method. However, it might not be the most business-efficient option.

Consider, for example, the possibility that a business wants to acquire 10 PCs and network them together. The bill for the hardware could easily be around £5,000 to £7,000 assuming you don’t go for the most basic computers.

Such a purchase seems easy enough with a few credit cards. However, once you look at the interest on a corporate credit card, you might want to rethink whether that is a desirable means of financing a key purchase. A bank loan is another option, but given the current credit crunch, banks are less willing to issue loans, even to their best customers.

STRATEGIC SPENDING

Often a better way of funding technology purchases is to view them as an investment rather than a cost. Automatically you’re thinking of getting some sort of return, which wouldn’t be the case if you were planning to make a straight purchase and borrowing or saving the cash to do it.

However, before an acquisition can be truly part of a company strategy, you need to take certain actions:

  • You need to define an aim:  What exactly is the new technology supposed to deliver that wasn’t being delivered before?
  • Your staff needs to buy into the idea of change
  • You need to select the right technology
  • You need to deploy it correctly and upgrade when further business-related enhancements become available.

By this stage, many business managers’ heads may be spinning at the thought of the possible complexities, in my next post on this subject, we’ll look at working with a trusted partner to help navigate through the challenges.

David

Small Business Basics | Email – Inbox Management

One thing I have come up against a number of times during my career is the need for time management. How do you get everything you need to get done, without working all hours? I’m not an entrepreneur, but having worked at three leading US companies and start-ups too, I’ve seen things from both sides of the fence, as it were.

Some organisations use stand-alone task management software to help staff manage their time. This is both costly and unnecessary, in my opinion. I’m a big fan of task management. But having a dedicated task list system in place, even when used properly, still does not take care of my entire list of time management issues.

Most modern workers already have a task list; it’s called their email inbox. Businesses these days are slaves to email be it in desktop form or on their iPhone or BlackBerry. In fact, the first tasks I accomplish each day are those “assigned” to me via my email. This is important because my email box is largely made up of tasks assigned to me by people outside of the office such as clients and prospective clients. Even the most important internal tasks run secondary to the inbox! So how do you manage your inbox tasks effectively?

Fight the Flow

There is one, very simple and overlooked rule. Delete or archive your emails when completed.

Yes, really that is it. You’d be surprised at how often that one-step solution is often ignored in the midst of a busy day, but if you’re serious about beating the waves of email you get, you need to make it part of your daily routine.

This is how I work: every day I go through my inbox one email at a time. Firstly you must read the email and (assuming it’s not spam) then you must act accordingly. If it’s a question, hit reply and answer the question right then. If you need more information, and unless you don’t have immediate access to the information, go get what you need in order to reply. You want to get as many emails responded to as possible. Once you’ve replied delete (or archive) the email so you can move on to the next one.

If the email contains information that is needed for a new task or is for a task already in progress, then note the information into the appropriate task in your list, or if necessary, create a new task for yourself in your task list or diary. Once you’ve done that then you’re free to delete (or archive) the email and move on to the next one.

E-mail background

Action Stations

After you’ve gone through all your emails, the only ones that should be remaining are those that are still pending some kind of action. Maybe you need to reply but are waiting on some specific information that you don’t readily have. That’s fine to leave in your mailbox. By the end of each morning, the only emails that should remain in your inbox are those that still require action.

It takes a while to develop this into your day, because it’s just too easy to leave email unassigned.

On a personal note I can honestly say that there is little more positive than seeing I’ve reduced my inbox from hundreds to just a handful of emails before 9:30am. There is a nice feeling of accomplishment knowing that a big chunk of my daily tasks have been completed and I’m set up to tackle what might be heading my way with more ease.

David

Get your branding irons out | Building a brand for life

Creating a brand that your customers learn to love and keep coming back to can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do for your business – just ask any one of the many successful companies out there that have built an entire business model around the brand.

Unfortunately, as those business brand champions will also tell you, life isn’t quite as simple as heading down to your friendly high street brand management consultancy and slapping a few thousand pound notes on the table. Developing a brand takes time, effort and conscious thought about what you want to achieve.

So, what are the vital first steps to building a brand for life?

  • Find the right message for you: it sounds simple, but knowing what you want your company to be and thinking about how the brand can help shape that is an essential first step to creating a brand that  customers can identify with. Are you exciting, fast moving and cutting edge, or a dependable, well established and trusted business?

  • Find your centre: no matter how big the business, no one does everything for everyone, and so being something to someone is much more important than trying to  spread your brand too thinly

  • Don’t over-promise: it’s a classic mistake. No one likes to think that they’re not the best at what they do, but be sure that you can back up any bold claims with performance. False promises will only disillusion potential repeat customers if they don’t get what they see on the tin
  • Bring your people along: every ounce of customer interaction that you have should reinforce what your brand stands for. The biggest part of how your customers will experience your brand is through your people so you have to bring your employees along for the ride to make sure that those values that you worked so hard on earlier come through in everything they do
  • Think long term: A logo or website can be hugely vital when it comes to communicating your messages externally so create something that you know you’ll be happy with for years to come. While you might want to tweak or update your brand every now and again, chopping and changing is a strict no-no as it strips away everything you’ve built up. Coca-Cola didn’t become the best known product in the world by switching logos every five years!

Quality is a vital ingredient of a good brand. The points above should be delivered in a consistent approach. Research confirms that, statistically, higher quality brands achieve a higher market share and higher profitability that their inferior competitors. So, what are you waiting for? Stay focused, and breathe new life into your brand.