Again, Facebook?

Facebook is in the news again, this time for making user data available to companies such as Netflix, Spotify, Microsoft, and the New York Times, in order to give third-parties the tools they need to build and provide features to better integrate with Facebook. Facebook used loopholes to circumvent terms and conditions about making this data available without user permission. 

In some cases, this actually helped FB usability, and was transparent to users, such as integrating with Apple iPhone platform so that users could link their Facebook calendars with their iPhone calendars. Apple states that the user data required for this stayed on the iPhone of the FB user.

While many companies named in this news story state that that they were unaware of the permissions granted to them, this does not negate the seriousness of this action by Facebook. Some clients have questioned the need to stay on Facebook and indeed, some are abandoning or deleting their accounts, walking away from communities that they have carefully built up over time. 

Is that the right thing to do? To be honest, I can’t say. It’s an individual decision, based on your comfort level with Facebook’s actions, and with your ability to make the changes necessary to retool your social media strategy. As a social media manager and consultant, my job is to support my clients and help them find the best tools possible to accomplish their business goals. If a client feels strongly enough about this particular issue, I can and have helped them figure out alternative strategies.

Other clients, as well as friends and colleagues, shrug and say that data breaches can, and do, happen on every social media platform. This is also true. In which case, the best thing I can do for clients is to help them preserve the privacy of their data, while keeping them on track to maintain and grow their communities and connections. It’s hard to quit a platform that provides a variety of tools for small businesses and non-profits, not to mention one that is, essentially, free. Keep in mind that this platform costs a lot of money to run, however, and the company needs to pay for all those server farms some way. Facebook ads alone are not sufficient. 

My recommendation is to take some time and think about your overall social media strategy. What’s working? What’s not? Is the latest data breach a deal breaker for me? If you have a consultant, speak frankly with them about it. (If you need a consultant, I am here. :-) ) 

Here are some general guidelines for an effective and safe social media strategy that you should find helpful, regardless of whether that strategy incorporates Facebook.

  • Be careful with what you share on social media. When I first started using social media, I decided never to share information that I would not want to see on the evening news. This is what I tell my clients, too. Of course, business-related content is designed to be shared, but overall, whenever you post something online, it’s worth taking five minutes and thinking about whether this content could be interpreted as inappropriate or reveals information that perhaps should not be disclosed. We must all take some responsibility for the content we create and share online. This is not victim-blaming - no online platform should share user data and content without express permission - but it is always wise to think before posting.

  • Know where your people are. There is a tendency to jump onto a social media platform because you already know how to use it or because you think you should be on it. Many small business owners gravitate to Facebook because Facebook is free and provides a variety of tools for business promotion. But your first consideration for choosing a social media platform is to be where your clients or customers are. If you run a small craft business, you might want to think about Pinterest as a primary platform, for example.

  • Diversify. One of the cardinal rules of successful money management is to have a diversified portfolio that includes a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash. This portfolio can be adjusted to changing market conditions. In other words, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Having a stock-heavy portfolio can be problematic in times of recession. Having mostly cash means that you miss out on gains in a bull market. 

The same is true for social media. I know many people with small businesses who rely entirely on Facebook or Pinterest. But if something happens to that platform, then all your community building efforts there are for naught. A solid online marketing portfolio should consist, first and foremost, of an effective, current web site, and perhaps 2 social media platforms that drive traffic to that website. Regardless of what happens with social media, your website is yours and not subject to the whims third-party organizations. And then you have a primary and spare social media platform to drive traffic to your website. 

  • Be alert to all possible data breach issues. And act on them. After the news was made public about how Facebook sold data extracted from information provided in games and quizzes, I still see people using them. Again, not to blame the victims, but you can’t complain about Facebook if you knowingly participate in activities that may compromise your user data.

  • Have an exit strategy. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. If you decide to leave a social media platform, tell people where they can find you, and maybe why. You built up this community - you owe it to them to tell them where to find you. They may or may not follow you to your new social media presence, but it won’t be for lack of information about where you ended up.

Social media can be fun. It’s a great way to stay connected with far-flung friends and family. For small businesses, it’s a low-cost way to create community and reach out to current and potential clients and customers. Just use it wisely.

Facebook Anatomy 101

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Facebook has been around since 2009. It is continuously adding new features and removing old or little-used ones. And of course, its infamous algorithm continues to challenge us all with figuring out how to find and be in touch with friends, if you are a Facebook user, or stay visible, if you are using Facebook for business.

There are some fundamentals about Facebook that don't change, and yet these can be some of the most confusing aspects of the platform. I speak of the parts that make up your presence on Facebook - your timeline, newsfeed, profile, and, if you use Facebook for business purposes, your page, group, or community.

When you create an account with Facebook, you get a Facebook profile. This is where you upload a profile photo; add specific information about yourself, such as your job or contact information; and share photos. It is uniquely yours and is associated with the email you used to create the account. The information that you post there is known as your timeline. You can post memes, photos, and links. Your friends and family can post content there, as well, if you specify that they can do so in your privacy settings (more about those in another blog post). When you connect with people on Facebook through a personal profile, you friend them. 

However, when you first log in to Facebook, you see your news feed. What appears in your feed is a function of whom you have friended (and follow) on Facebook and how often you interact with them, content that your friends and family may like and share, as well as what their friends share, and lastly, what business pages you have liked and followed. Of course, you will see ads that Facebook is showing you because it has a pretty good idea of your demographic and buying habits. If you post something here, it will appear on your timeline, as well. 

Businesses, public figures, and organizations will most likely use Pages, which are designed to essentially function as personal profiles for those entities. They are similar to a personal profile in structure and function, but the intent is for the actual page to become the entity rather than the person behind a profile. Pages help businesses and organizations promote and market themselves on Facebook through the use of templates with specific features. 

When you connect with a Page, you like it (as opposed to "friending it"). You automatically also follow the page, which results in the Page being more visible in your News Feed. Pages are also verified for authenticity, which helps a brand develop a deeper level of trust among followers.

Facebook Groups are virtual meeting places for people who share common interests. Groups can be public, private, or closed, and provide a safe space for members to share information and express their opinions. A group can be associated with a business through its Page. For example, a nutrition coach can have a Page for her business, and associate a group for private coaching with that page. 

So that is the ten-thousand foot overview of Facebook's makeup and functionality. We hope this helps make your navigation in Facebook a little easier. Watch this space for related articles on setting up a Facebook page, using groups, and more.

Resources for the graphically-challenged

Look ma! I'm an artist!

Look ma! I'm an artist!

I have a confession to make. Words are easier for me than pictures. I can type a description of something faster than I could draw it. It's not that I lack any esthetic sense - I know what I like when it comes to picking yarn colors to knit a sweater, or picking out backsplash tiles for our kitchen. But if I have to design something from scratch, I'm stymied. 

As you probably know, being able to create visually-interesting content for social media is important. Graphics, like photos, art, videos, and even memes, attract readers and add interest to your written content, whether on a blog or in a Facebook group. I even recommend changing the banner visual on your Facebook business page or group page on a regular basis to keep things fresh and generate interest.

I have discovered two resources that help me enormously when it comes to creating visuals for social media - Canva and Creative Commons. 

Canva is a free online tool that helps you create all kinds of marketing materials, from Facebook page banners to event fliers to business cards. You start with a template, and select layouts, backgrounds, text, and other elements (such as photos) from the Canva palettes to create your marketing piece. Many of the basic elements are free, and they offer higher-end elements for a small price per piece. You can also upload your own photos and other graphics to use in your creations. The beauty of the social media templates is that they are specifically sized for use on various social media platforms, eliminating all that guesswork. There is also a paid option for Canva, which basically allows you to create and share content with your teams. 

Creative Commons is an American non-profit organization that provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses to artists, photographers, musicians, and other makers for a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use their creative work. It's a great way to find stock photos or clip art to use for your content. You can search their website here for material that you can use for free or minimal cost. Each maker sets their conditions for use, so be sure to read the usage conditions carefully. Some photographers want attribution, for example.

Between Canva and Creative Commons, I almost feel like an artist some days!!

Manners, please!

When I went online today, I found myself a member of a Facebook group I was not aware of and, I discovered, not suitable for. I know the group's founder and consider her a friend. I understand that she is eager to promote her business, and wants to build a community of like-minded individuals.

But this is not the way to do it. You don't include people in any social media community without their knowledge and consent, just as you don't include people's emails on your newsletter mailing list without express permission. 

It's important to be considerate of everyone's time and attention. Social media, email, and online media demand so much of us, and most people opt in for what they feel they can manage.  By all means, invite people to your social media groups. Forward them a sample newsletter. But don't assume that everyone - even friends and family who love you dearly and want to see you succeed - are ready to join your community. Don't put them in the awkward position of having to leave the group. It's inconsiderate and impolite. 

And they may not even be suitable members for your particular community. You want participants who are knowledgable and engaged, and who can help support your community. In the case I describe above, I am included in a group for people who like books read aloud via CD or MP3. I actually don't like listening to books read aloud. I vastly prefer podcasts, especially those with a couple of people engaged in lively dialog. I am not even a good candidate for this Facebook group.

So please, remember to ask or invite people to join your online communities. It's the polite thing to do. 

 

 

 

Heads up!

I recently had a discussion with a friend about polishing her Linkedin profile. But before we even got started, she said "Please don't make me add a photo!" T. claims that she never takes a good photo, and that it is useless to try. T is a development executive at a famous college, and has no problem asking people for large sums of money. But she cringes at the thought of having a head shot taken.

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Bottom line - you need professional head shots. You are the face of your small business. Your customers and communities want to know who you are, and the way they do that is through your social media and your web site. It's important that you put your best face forward, so to speak. If I'm about to embark on a business relationship with someone, whether as a customer, business partner, or otherwise, I want to start to get to know them. (Plus, having a good headshot makes it easier for people to find you if you decide to meet in a restaurant or other public place.)

And while it's tempting to use the photos from your nephew's wedding, where you are dressed up with nice hair and make up, resist. You want a professional photo that is up-to-date and created expressly for the purpose of representing you and your business.

Having professional head shots done does not have to be painful. Here are some tips for getting the best possible results:

  • Hire a professional photographer. Do not use photos taken by your friend on their iPhone.
  • Women may want to hire a makeup artist or stylist to help you prep for your photos. These professionals know how to make you look your best.
  • Bring a couple of outfits to the photo shoot, so the photographer has a couple of mood/style options. Choose simple clothing in colors that suit your coloring.

You spend a lot of time and money on your logo, web site, and other online collateral. Doesn't it make sense to invest the same resources in the heart and soul of your business? 

The coach isn't in the game

I attended a gardening seminar with a friend this past weekend. I enjoy gardening, and like to raise herbs and vegetables for cooking. For my friend S., however, gardening is more of a passion. She is active in her local gardening club; she can identify pretty much any plant you show her; and she understands the U.S. Hardiness Zone maps. 

During a break at the seminar, S. and I discussed our "second acts". Mine is this, the Social Media Smith. Hers is TBD - she currently works as a human resources professional for a major New York university. But she had a lightbulb moment at the conference. While chatting with a master gardener who helps customers design their gardens, S. realized that this was something she could do. She could be a garden coach. This means that she wouldn't have to the actual work - mulching, weeding, watering, raking. More importantly, her job would be to help clients create the type of garden they wanted, and cansustain. S can help them understand what plants work best for their location; how and when to plant; and help them create a garden that is uniquely theirs, and that suits their location, time, tastes, and efforts.

I had an epiphany, too. I realized that this is exactly what I hope to do with my clients - help them create meaningful customer engagement through social media, without doing it for them. Instead, I want to empower my clients to build engagement in a sustainable way - in a way that suits their time, efforts, and personality. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring someone to do the work for you, be it gardening or social media. That, too, is part of understanding the limits of your time and resources, and in fact outsourcing your social media work may be necessary while you are growing your business. Many larger organizations have entire teams dedicated to creating and sharing content on social media. Outsourcing gardening or social media will still have good results in the end - a beautiful garden or an active online community.

On the other hand, no matter how good your hired gardener or social media specialist is, they are not you. You are the voice of your business. You understand best how to convey your message. And, as with a garden, your presence in your online community is key to helping grow that community into one in which you engage with sincerity and meaning.

Moreover, if you are not part of the development of your garden or community, you may find yourself needing to step in and do something yourself - replace a flowering shrub or address an angry customer in an online forum - and you may not have the tools or knowledge to do it. That's not to say that you can never do these things, but you may lose precious time while you figure out next steps. 

I could really milk the gardening analogy ("grow flowers in your community, not weeds" "nurture your online communities with attention", etc. ad naseum), but I'm not going there. Instead, I'll leave you with this thought: 

The coach isn't in the game. The coach's job is to make the players successful by helping them develop their game skills. 

Hellooooo...is anybody there?

I just spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to register for an event. There was no phone number, email, or registration link associated with the listing. When I tried emailing the event coordinator at the conference center, I got a form to fill out.

I really want to attend this event, so I'm sticking with it. But otherwise, I would have given up and walked away at this point. It's not clear that these people want my business. And it's not a good way to start a relationship with a customer.

Bottom line - always provide some direct method of communication for anything you post relating to your business. One click should take you to a registration link, a Facebook page, or at least an email. And provide a phone number for good measure. Make it easy for potential customers to find you, or they may not be potential customers for long. 

Putting the "social" in social business

The secret to how social media works won’t be found in marketing or business books. It doesn’t live in data about digital influence or the purchasing habits of web users. In order to understand the true power of the social web, you have to look into the nature of humanity itself: we are social creatures.
— Olivier Blanchard, from his book "Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization"

The key to a successful social media strategy is how you create, and work with, all of your communities - customers, potential customers, business partners, or suppliers. 

There is a lot of emphasis on social media technology, because there is a lot of it, and it's critical to be able to understand how to manage and deploy these technologies effectively. But you must remember that the technology is there to help us connect and collaborate, and in our rush to "like", tweet, instagram, and blog, we can lose sight of the bigger picture - the human relationships that are the foundations of our social networks.

Several years ago, some friends and I traveled to Istanbul. If you've ever been there, you probably remember that business owners are very assertive in trying to get you to come to their stores and restaurants and spend money.  My friends and I first encountered Bekir when he all but pounced on us as we passed his carpet store one afternoon. Some of us actually wanted to buy carpets, but we wanted lunch first. Not wanting to lose potential customers, Bekir whisked us down the street to a small restaurant where he helped us order, made sure we got good service, and while we ate, regaled us with tales of his business and his family. When we were done, he escorted us back to the carpet store. We were seated in a private salon and served Turkish coffee and apple tea while Bekir and his uncle educated us on the finer points of Turkish carpets. Three hours, lively bartering session, and five carpet purchases later, we were sent back to the hotel in the company car, along with arrangements to meet up for dinner the next evening.

Overkill? Well, perhaps if an American vendor went through all that, yes. We Americans are used to just going into a store and buying something. And I don't think that all Turkish vendors are quite that full-service. But at a minimum, no matter where we went to shop, we would always, always be offered coffee or tea, and sometimes lunch, if it was that time of day. I also came to learn that bartering that is traditional in the Middle East and elsewhere is a way of creating community - both for developing new relationships and strengthening existing ones. But for me, it was not about the transaction alone; the experience, and being part of something bigger, was also important. I was always treated like a friend or neighbor. I was part of the village. 

Bekir and his uncle wanted us to have a good experience, ideally so we would buy from them, but also so that we might return, and recommend the business to other travelers. This is what social business is - building and managing relationships and community. Business by its very nature is social. But social media channels alone don't make you social. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are tools that extend your reach and your ability to engage with your community wherever they are. However, it's the relationships with the people at the other end of your Tweets that are important. Each like on your Facebook page has a real person behind it. How are you prepared to connect and communicate with them? You want to provide the digital equivalent of offering someone coffee or tea when they do business with you. You want to create the digital equivalent of the village. Your village.     

Bekir and me. I did not buy any carpets!

Bekir and me. I did not buy any carpets!