Social media for the entrepreneur

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This is a ENORMOUS post. If I weren’t summarizing a presentation I gave last night, I would have broken it into a small miniseries with many guest stars including Betty White. So make sure you go to the bathroom before you start.

Last night I got the chance to speak to a class at DU that focuses on creating business plans. Social media is perfect for the startup due to the low barriers of entry and the minimal cost; other than time. It was a great class of about 15 and I had been working with Jason Lundberg to schedule a time to talk. (Thanks Jason.)

I quickly asked everyone what they were focusing on for business models and they covered the spectrum. Everything from hostels (not hostiles) to B2B consulting businesses to creating a premium vodka. There was a very mixed bag. The students were aware of social media but I don’t believe that anyone had taken them on a deeper dive. My goal was to take them on that deep dive specific to how Web 2.0 could impact their new business.

I started with the concept of the LivingMarket that I developed to help clients understand what kind of relationships they could have online.

  1. Findable – can’t do anything until people can find you online. SEO, SEM, affiliate and discovery are all ways to be found. Some more expensive than others and based on your business model; imperative to enable your customers to find you.
  2. Recommendable – This is the one that always gets businesses in trouble. e.g. Client wants to drive traffic to their site/their product and when you look at what they have to offer you hope that people CAN’T find  it. It’s not worth finding. It’s a real challenge to be recommendable and make sure you are before you go any deeper. WOMM is your friend.
  3. Transparent – It is best to make a list of things you’re NOT willing to talk about in a blog, Facebook fan page, Twitter feed, etc. Be as honest as you can but don’t share IP and disturbingly personal stories. (You define what that means for you.)
  4. Collaborative – As a startup you should be looking for ways that your customers can become involved in your business. Icenlantic skis has the one of the best examples I’ve seen with their first tracks program and everything else that they do.

We then reviewed some core readings to help understand social media. Cluetrain Manfiesto is arguably the most important. and still holds up after 10 years. Naked Conversations and Twitterville are also must reads. The important things to remember about social media is that the overall rules hold up no matter what platform you’re on. Facebook, blogging or Twitter. The what stays the same. Some examples are:

  • talk in a human voice
  • be honest (transparent)
  • it (social media) is conversational

The difference lies in how you use those tools. Fan pages are for people that already like your product or service. Twitter only allows you 140 characters. Blogging allows you to create the maximum depth of content since it’s your site but getting traffic there is difficult at best. (There are over 1.3469 bazillion web pages and just so you know; this is the last page on the Internet.) Build it and no one will come. Build it and creatively market it and you may get some traffic.

From there we split the two types of ventures into B2B vs. B2C. For B2B, LinkedIn is your B2B keystone for anything you do socially and I like to think of it as Salesforce lite. Here are some of the ways to use LinkedIn.

  • Groups – Search for groups in the industry you’re entering and complementary industries and build relationships by contributing to the groups and introducing yourself through your subject matter expertise. Share your business goals when appropriate and never hard sell.
  • Organizer – This is a tool that allows you to organize your contacts and take notes on how you may be able to help them and have them help you.
  • Company site – As a start-up you need to add your business to LinkedIn. This helps you get found and makes your business more valid in the eyes of those that are looking for businesses.
  • Answers – This is an attempt and a free user generated knowledge base and may or may not prove to be helpful (as we found out last night). I think LinkedIn needs to partner with Wikipedia to funnel business specific information into their site.
  • Account types – There are a number of account types and the middle tier is essential for startups.
  • Network stats – It’s good to review how many people you’re connected with and how you might be able to partner with someone in the industry. Your personal brand is your network.
  • Guy Kawasaki’s 11 recommendations for LinkedIn – Some good recommendations in here as well.

After that we about talked B2C businesses. I chose to talk about Facebook primarily because of the overwhelming user base. It’s best to think of Facebook as an Internet that sits on the Internet. Here’s some facts that get the point across:

  • 400 million users on Facebook and 100 million mobile users.
  • 1/2 of “active users” access Facebook everyday. To my knowledge they have not defined what an active user is.
  • Facebook traffic is second only to Google. People are staying on Facebook all day. Can they avoid becoming the next AOL?
  • Omniture recently signed a deal to embed its analytics in Facebook. Analytics is the forgotten art. As a startup the more you know about how people are viewing your Facebook account/site, the better off you are.
  • The coming of Rockmelt; a browser specific to Facebook. Again. An Internet that sits on top of the Internet.
  • 77% of fan pages have less than a 1,000 followers. This is because, on average, they update their page every 16 days! (It’s best to think of content on the Internet as produce at the grocery. It has a shelf life of about 2 days. After that; no one wants to digest it!)
  • To get an application created for Facebook it’s best to use one of the developers on this list. (I added this one not so much as a fact but more of a, “you might want to consider”.)

The student starting the premium vodka company asked if Facebook was the best place for him to advertise given the fact that Facebook does not allow for businesses to promote alcohol. Great question. I indicated that based on the demographic realities of Facebook it is a great place to focus on. He simply would not be able to advertise. He could create a fan page like Jack Daniels has. (Check your liver at the door!)

From there we talked about Twitter.

Intent based marketing – Twitter has more people than any other platform talking about what they are going to do. Most everything else on the web is past tense. When you’re starting a business you want to “get in front” of those customers and help them realize what you can do for them before they make a buying decision.

search – The search mechanism that is built into Twitter is fantastic for determining what you’re target market is looking for. If you live in a larger city it will also give you location specific information much the same way that Foursquare does. This is an essential tool for research.

oneforty – This is Google for Twitter applications. They have all Twitter apps indexed and based on your business model you can find  whatever you need to leverage Twitter.

The rules – Building a Twitter account is a process and I outlined some rules for creating a robust account in the 7th class of ITEC 4700.

WeFollow – This is a great way to find out who are the SMEs/thought leaders in your target market. I like how they divide the  most influential and most followers. Not the same thing!

bit.ly & SEO – bit.ly is the number one URL shortener when it comes to getting clickthroughs AND as a business you lose Google juice by not using your original URL.  Weigh this fact before tweeting something out.

After comparing the needs of B2B & B2C companies, we talked about product based businesses vs. service companies and how they may best utilize social media.

Advertising – focus on the your niche. Use Google and WeFollow to find the best sites to place your add. As a startup you don’t have much money to spend. If can you afford advertising (affiliate, banner, etc) make sure it’s in the right venue. Look at Facebooks social advertising and if you can afford it, take a look at Lotame for “influencer marketing”.

Virtual goods – I recently did a post on virtualizing your product and last nights focus was merely to create complementary virtual products on Facebook. Many businesses are diversifying revenue this way.

iPhone applications – You may be able to create an app version of your product and if not; can you sell it through eCommerce enabled apps that others have created; bundling your product with other complementary products. (That’s right. Two, count’em two semicolons in one sentence!)

Blogging – talking about your product on your site, Facebook, Twitter, etc lets people who love the product know where the product is headed and allows them to five you feedback.

As for startups providing services,  I recommended the following:
Blogging – At its worst, blogging creates Google juice. At its best customers and potential customers are providing invaluable feedback to help you direct your service (or product).Blogging whether it ‘s micro-blogging on Twitter or Facebook messages is imperative for a startup.

iPhone, BlackBerry & Android – Depending on where your market is you may chose to get involved in the application landscape. The entrepreneur should go to Distimo and sign-up for their free monthly report to determine if their target market is buying apps and if so, on what platform.

Subscription – If you’re going to monetize your content (including advertising) it better be deep in your niche. No one will pay for the weather and someone who is a SME for that vertical will smell BS quickly. Freemium may be the best way to get paid for your niche content. In this model the user is paying a subscription and not being exposed to advertising of any kind OR they get the ads in exchange for free access to the niche content.

Facebook for fans – Did I mention that there are a lot of people on Facebook? There are an you should be there if you feel as though your service worthy of recommendation.

Get SatisfactionGet Satisfaction is a social customer service site. Complain here and the company will respond most times. It costs nothing for the user or the startup to use. It can be a great branding experience assuming you resolve their issues. If they take the time to ask for help, there is a good chance that you have a up and coming service.

Then we talked about monetizing social media:

Cost reduction – The only cost associated with social media is your time.(Yes I know your time is valuable and hiring a marketing firm may be well beyond your budget.)

Research – Googling to research your market and finding the thought leaders in your vertical on WeFollow is again free except for the time it takes.

Customer service – Get Satisfaction is a great way to handle customer service. Did I mention it’s Free?

Revenue – People buy from those they know and trust. That is what Web 2.0 is all about.

Qualified leads – potential customers can read your blog posts, tweets, LinkedIn group participation and get a feeling for what doing business together would be like. If they like what they see, you’re more likely to get the business.

Networking – Depending on your model, your network may be one of the most valuable things you have. As a entrepreneur it’s indispensable

eCommerce & mCommerce – Enable your customers to buy your product through the online and mobile world. This can piggy back on someone else’s ecommerce/mCommerce engine and if it fits your model; do it!

Advertising – Unless you have a huge amount of traffic, you’re not going to make money on vanilla advertising. That is why finding the niche sites is so important and the industry moves away from a CPM model and towards a CPA model, successfully advertising will become more difficult.

As an entrepreneur, you’re not only building your business; you’re building your personal brand. Here are a few essentials:

LinkedIn: do it! – Your LinkedIn account needs to be buttoned down tight. This is what potential customers & strategic partners will think of you. (If HR and your grandmother like the information contained and the picture you’ve used; you’re good.)

What AREN’T you willing to do – Make a list of things you aren’t willing to do to be found, recommended, transparent and collaborative. It’s easier to list what you won’t do and this is harder when your starting a business and your desperate for an opportunity.

Your personal brand is your network – It is important to maintain a healthy network online and this is an idicator of the strength of your personal brand. Someone says they are a CEO and they don’t have any connections on LinkedIn or followers on Twitter (or worse yet; they aren’t even there) does not bode well for their brand.

Google yourself – Take some time and find out what’s out there on the interwebs about you. Go to Google, type your name in and look at the results. Now look at the images tab. (Up to you as to whether or not you decide to remove the filter from your results.) Can be scary. For me it’s easy. It’s always the image of the killer in Halloween. I should sell cutlery.

Me 2.0 by Dan Schawbel – Dan wrote a great book on personal branding and I recommend everyone read it. Now.

Rebrand – This is easier for entrepreneurs to understand but you should always be ready to rebrand yourself. If you think you will spend your life in one vertical doing one thing, think again. Does not happen.

Lastly we finished up with talking about the evolving online landscape. If you read this blog regularly you’ll be familiar with most of these. If you don’t read this blog regularly, please do. It’s good for you!

Virtual world colliding with the real world – Examples of this are augmented reality (browsers and flavor 2), QR codes and applications like RedLaser.

2013/2015 & the Touchweb – If the Aztecs are wrong and we’re still alive after 2012, by 2013 the number of smartphones will outnumber PCs. By 2015, more people will be surfing using smartphones instead of PCs. (According to Gartner.)

Cloud Business – Social media tools are free and applications like Get Satisfaction and CrowdSPRING can help you create an amazing brand for your business with minimal overhead.

The Splinternet – More than ever a business needs to think about all of the “online” venues they can participate in. Should I have a mobile site? Should I have an app? Android or iPhone? What does my YouTube channel need to look like? The online business world is messy and I’m not so sure there is any offline business. Plumbers have websites!

One of the students asked; “When does it end? It seems like too much.”. Unfortunately we’re only 10-15% into the social media revolution and I’m sure that when TV started many marketers thought; “Should we put an ad on TV? Print works fine.”. (Now with TiVO the answer is; no.) Marketing is messy now and yet very powerful. It requires vigilance.

5 Eras of social networking – We focused on the fifth era; social commerce. We are all headed towards a form of entrepreneurship. Social media is making that a reality within the next five years and the economy has helped as well.)

MobileSocial – Mobile is a natural extension of social media since mobile devices are more personal than a PC. 100 million of Facebook users access the site via mobile device. That will continue and startups may consider creating mobile sites first based on their model. (Conduit marketing will also be invaluable and we didn’t get a chance to get to it last night.)

For students that want to follow the social media bidpes that I follow you should download TweetDeck & follow this list. Easy to set up and this method is the only way I can keep up with the changes.

For those students that did not get to take my class this quarter; you should! It will be available in the Fall. Until then if you click this link, you’ll be taken to all of the class material on my blog.

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I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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