Archive for the 'Social Media' Category

The new class of small business influencers

In The Age of the Seller, three groups mattered to a business for sales growth: suspects, prospects and customers. Let’s talk about these in order of appearance.

A suspect is anybody and everybody; think of the names in the local phone book. Initially, a business has no relationship with a suspect until contact is made in some way. Then, if the qualifying criteria turns them into a prospect, the relationship develops further until they’re converted into a customer, or not. For 10,000 years, of these three, only prospects and customers were influencers of a business.

In the Age of the Customer, which was born of the Internet, businesses have to learn how to operate where influencers are not only evaluating their traditional activity, but their online presence as well. And in the new Age, there are now three influencers: the original two, plus a new one.

The new influencer is users, and their impact is only online.

Like suspects in the original Age, users are people you probably have not yet developed a business relationship with. Unlike suspects, users become influencers of your business in at least five ways, but only if you have an Internet presence:

  1. Users find you online and appraise your offerings, information, and behavior before you know they exist.
  2. Users can influence others by posting their appraisal – good or not so much – on any of the commenting (Yelp) or social media platforms (Facebook). And even if the appraisal is not good, you still get the next three.
  3. The very act of users finding you, especially if they leave a commenting trail, reveals themselves to you.
  4. Some form of contact information (email, handle, cookie, etc.) is left behind.
  5. You can assume that the user has at least a tacit interest in what you do and sell.

Users are suspects on steroids. I have identified them as a new class of prospect, because as they wield their influence, they actually self-qualify themselves without any direct cost or involvement by you. How much could that impact your prospect development plan?

If you’re still unimpressed with the potential of this new group of influencers to your business, remember this: The drivers of value for the big social media platforms are not customers, but hundreds of millions of users. And every small business has the ability to convert a user into a paying customer in a way that makes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn green with envy.

Develop a strategy to turn users into your new class of prospects.


I have written and talked extensively on the new influencers and other facets of The Age of the Customer. Click here to listen, read or watch.

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Social media and the Tour de France

The 99th Tour de France is underway as the pinnacle of bicycle races. Small businesses can learn a lot from how Tour teams execute their strategy.

Perhaps you’ve seen a Tour competitor “breakaway” and leave behind the peloton (the biggest bunch of riders). Whereupon one of the commentators will say, “Someone better chase him down,” before he gets out of sight and glides across the finish line unchallenged.

But the “chasing down” only happens once it’s clear that the breakaway has the “legs” and isn’t going to fizzle back into the pack. Making a countermove on an ill-advised dash just wastes energy.

Whenever something new comes to the marketplace, our response should be to determine if the shiny new object has legs, or is an ill-fated breakaway. Wise managers don’t chase down fads.

Three years ago, I predicted that while social media might be a craze, it is not a fad. This means when the dust settles on the hype about new rules, we will be left with something more intuitive to a business than the unfortunate term “social media” – productive and powerful new tools.

These tools are powerful because they help small businesses create online customer communities. And they’re productive because anyone can use them without spending a lot of precious capital.

We wanted to know where our small business audience was on keeping social media breakaway leaders in sight, so recently we asked this question:

“How much of a commitment has your business made toward a social media strategy?” Here’s what we learned:

Only 13% of our respondents said, “We have a social media strategy and it’s working.” Almost four of ten said, “We have a social media strategy, but not sure if it’s working,” while 31% said they want a social media strategy, “but can’t seem to make it happen.” And one-fifth of our sample said, “We’re doing nothing with social media on purpose.”

Every day that goes by, qualified prospects will increasingly come from online activity – including communities you build and join – and less from traditional prospecting methods.

The good news is you don’t have to win the social media race, but you do have to participate. And like almost half of our survey respondents, you must keep the leaders in sight.

If, like the other half of our survey, you’re struggling with a social media strategy, hire a 20-something to help you.

You don’t have to win the social media race, but you have to keep the winners in sight.


Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show I talked more about what small business can learn from the Tour de France about social media.

I also spoke with Dan Burrus, one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists and Technotrends, about how to integrate social into your media strategy. Click on one of the links below to download or listen to our conversations.

What we can learn about social media from the Tour de France

Social has become much more than media

Make sure your media strategy integrates all the options

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

The Facebook lesson about the value of users

What would you say about a company that has 900 million people – one out of every 13 Earthlings – using its consumable product virtually every day? That’s an unbelievable marketing and product adoption success story, isn’t it?

As you probably have figured out, this company is Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform. And its consumable product is the time, attention and information these 900 million users give Facebook every time they log in.

The future of social media platforms, used to help us connect with and build communities among friends, family and customers, is no longer being debated. Social media may seem like a craze, but it’s not a fad and isn’t going away. But the future of social media platforms as publically traded companies is another matter, primarily because of their business model.

The business challenge for Facebook is that it doesn’t have 900 million customers, it has 900 million users. The distinction is that a user pays you a visit and a customer pays you money. Facebook is really good at getting users to engage and re-engage. But now that it’s a public company, there is new scrutiny from investors and fish-eyed analysts on how effective it will be long-term at getting advertising customers to pay for access to these users.

A few months ago, when Facebook first announced plans to go public, we asked our audience if they thought Facebook’s stock “… will prove to be a good investment?” Only nine percent said, “Yes,” with the rest not optimistic about the stock, especially for the long-term.

Recently, the weekend after Facebook’s initial public offering (IPO) launched – perhaps we should say, belly-flopped – amid more hype than we’ve seen since the “dot bomb” days of 1999, we wanted to see if our audience would “Like” the stock any better as a long-term investment, so we asked, “Do you want Facebook stock in your retirement portfolio?” Only 8% said yes.

It’s very encouraging how these two polls demonstrate that small business owners consistently understand the business model difference between the value of a user verses a customer. But the lesson isn’t that users are bad. Indeed, your small business’s digital users – who want to get to know you online before they buy – are the new breed of prospects: future customers who, unlike Facebook’s users, may one day pay you more than a visit.

Thank you, Facebook, for providing small businesses with a valuable lesson about users and customers.


I talked more about the lessons small businesses can learn from Facebook on The Small Business Advocate Show. Click click on the links below to listen or download.

Lessons Facebook can teach small business about users

Why small business users are different from Facebook’s

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Differentiating between users and customers

Social media platforms have rocked the online world in just a few frenzied years by introducing new community building possibilities for people, and customer connection opportunities for business.

These are heady times for social media visionaries who have created a wave of viral excitement. This is the realm of entrepreneurs who worship at the throne of possibilities, where mistakes successfully identify what doesn’t work and fun is a best practice.

Now, like Gates and Jobs before them, social media entrepreneurs are following the path of past high-growth enterprises by hitching their wagons to Wall Street’s star through an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. But in doing so, companies like Facebook enter the world of very sharp pencils.

This is the realm of fish-eyed bankers and fickle fund managers who worship at the throne of results. They demand fealty, and an audience every 90 days to explain why actual operating numbers from the real marketplace missed – by one cent – what green-eye-shade analysts had divined with their theoretical financial models. And faster than you can “Like” a photo on Facebook, it becomes clear that mistakes in this realm come at a high cost, possibilities are not possible and fun isn’t in the budget.

Unlike Microsoft and Apple, which actually create products customers pay for, social media patrons aren’t paying customers, but users. And the only thing more fickle than a fund manager is an Internet user, which is why so many jaundiced eyes are being cast on social media IPOs.

We wanted to know what our small business audience thought about Facebook’s impending IPO, so we asked: “As Facebook makes plans to go public, do you think its stock will be a good investment?” Here’s what you told us.

On one end, less than one-in-ten of respondents said, “Facebook stock will do well short and long-term,” while at the other end, 16% believe, “Like other social media stocks, Facebook stock will be a loser.” The big group in the middle, 75%, allowed that “Facebook stock may do well for a year or so, but not long-term.”

Such skepticism isn’t about social media activity itself. Because what individuals and businesses are really doing on these platforms is creating communities, and online communities are here to stay.

But small business owners, like Wall Street, know there’s a difference in projecting the value of a customer and that of a user. One pays you money and the other pays you a visit.

Monetizing a user is not the same as monetizing a customer.

Recently on my radio show, The Small Business Advocate, I talked more about whether Facebook would be a good investment with Gary Moore, former SVP of Investments at Paine Webber and founder of The Financial Seminary. Take a few minutes to listen or download and let us know what you think.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Your values and customer communities

Last time we talked about focusing on developing customer communities as a way to find relevance through your online strategy, including website and social media. Now let’s strengthen this relevance by focusing on values.

Increasingly, prospects will turn into customers, and customers will become loyal, because they’re attracted to what your company stands for. They are looking for evidence of your values in your online elements. For example:

  1. Are your brand elements – brand promise and image – all about you and your stuff, or do they sound like something that would benefit your customer community?
  2. When delivering information to the community, is it all about you, or does it contribute to helping customers?
  3. What is the tone of your marketing message? “Tone” is how brand messages are incorporated as you serve the community, from crassly commercial to almost subliminal. You should strike a tone balance between making a sale and serving the community.

In a world where everything you sell is a commodity, value – product, price, service – is the threshold of a customer community, but values are the foundation. Anyone can find value, but when customers like your values, they tell their friends. Indeed, the most dynamic and potentially viral element of any online community is the feeling members have about your values. But remember, that “feeling” can go either way – positive or negative.

Here are a few guidelines for establishing compelling values online that match your values offline:

  1. Acquire and use the technology that makes online community building possible.
  2. Create an environment where an online community can flourish around the value you deliver and the values you demonstrate.
  3. Serve and protect your customer community, while accepting that you cannot control it. As customer members come and go, and say what’s on their minds, maximize the positive and repair the negative.

Once community members find your value and like your values, prospects will turn into customers and customers will turn into your best salespeople.

Write this on a rock…

Build and serve customer communities by delivering value and demonstrating values.

For more great Small Business Advocate content, click HERE

Build community with a website & social media

Here is a question many small business owners ask: “Do we need a social media strategy if we have a website?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address, even though you have a phone. It’s not an either/or decision; it’s both/and.

Clearly, your beautiful website is also very handy: cyber address, digital brochure, e-catalog, virtual store, etc. But as versatile as it is, there is one increasingly important capability you need that a website isn’t good at: community building. That’s what social media does.

By my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the popular Johnny-come-latelies, Facebook and Twitter. Your social media strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve customer communities, including: the new stuff, email marketing, customer loyalty programs and, the original social media, face-to-face.

What are these communities? Do you have one?

In the old days – like 1999 – your customer list was just names on an accounts payable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community; the rest are prospects who are becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old, this community is functioning and has expectations you have to meet, or they will join another community.

At the risk of hurting your feelings, once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of which you’re so proud will be of decreasing interest to them. But the good news is that anything you have that’s new – product and how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. – is of increasing interest to customers. They just don’t want to have to come back to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I’ve seen what you offer and like it, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them stuff by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website.

Connect with and serve your customer communities by following them home with all social media resources. That’s how a small business transcends merely being competitive by being relevant.

It’s both/and: Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media.

I’ve talked a lot about building online communities on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Click here to see all my interviews on social media, but first, let me know what you think about building customer communities.

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