Thursday, December 17, 2009

Refining your Approach to Social Media

Refocusing social media to add real business value

As social media makes its inevitable march to mainstream business, many small law firms, astutely, are already establishing a strong social media presence before their competitors. Many firms argue that, although all of the benefits of social media have not been realized, staying ahead of the curve will keep them well poised to take advantage of any benefits that may materialize in the future.

The risk, of course, is that early adopters of social media may find themselves still looking for greater benefits to their firm in three years. That, however, does not have to mean there is not real business value in social media. To keep your social media investment productive today, refine your approach by focusing on these three business goals.

1. Listening to your Customers – One of most useful thing that service providers are finding about social media is that they can listen to customer feedback in a manageable way. Prior to social media tools, such as Twitter, customers and businesses alike were frustrated with the lack of any good option for conversing. From a business owner’s perspective, the exorbitant cost of establishing a forum for customer feedback prohibited.

For customers, support lines, e-mails and Web forms generally were frustratingly slow and unresponsive. Now, business owners can listen to what customers are saying about their business and join the conversation. Customers are talking about your business, so you should listen, and perhaps more importantly, join in. For example, engaging customers with Twitter provides an easy, public forum for you to respond to your customers, and it sure beats mass e-mails with a “do not reply” link at the bottom.

2. Increase your Web Presence – contributing to social communities has the peripheral benefit of increasing your searchability. Google indexes your social media content, including your Twitter posts, so Google results may link back to your Web site, Facebook, or LinkedIn profile. Leverage that knowledge to your advantage by making more likely that potential customers will find you when they are looking for your services.

3. Networking and Word-of-Mouth Marketing – Building peer relationships – Finally, think of your social media time as networking time in the real world. You attend real social events to build your personal relationships that may result in business sometime down the line. The same principle applies to social media. Although you cannot measure social media’s ROI in the same way you would traditional marketing, you can still use it to expand your social network and develop your word-of-mouth marketing. So, stick with your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter efforts even though you are not seeing immediate results in terms of business walking in the door.

Focusing on these three social media benefits will guide you to making smarter business decisions about social media. The obvious pitfall to avoid, of course, is wasting too much time with social media. However, on the flip side, you do not want to fall behind your competitors and lose the opportunity to maximize your social media benefits.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is a Traditional Website Obsolete in a Web 2.0 World?

Considering the way people use the Web today, every small business owner should be asking themselves whether their traditional Web site should be the cornerstone of their Web presence. Several social media leaders today advocate dropping the traditional Web site model in favor of a blog. The thought behind the advice stems from the fact that most small business Web sites are little more than glorified business cards. Moreover, those Web sites are rarely visited.

Even as a marketing tool, traditional Web sites fall short. As a business owner, you have to ask how much value that actually delivers for your particular product or services. Especially as a service provider, a blog can help establish you as a trusted professional. For instance, a small doctor’s office can attract clients by writing posts about health topics, such as nutrition and exercise. That sort of credibility can grow into a new client-base. Of course, the same model can be applied across any industry.

Have you had any success with blogs or Facebook discussions that you have not seen on a Web page?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Small Business Marketing in a Web 2.0 Marketplace

Marketing a business in today’s Web 2.0 world can be daunting for entrepreneurs. Prior to the emergence of social media, small business marketing standbys were few enough to count on one hand. Word of mouth networking and few ads in your local directory would generate enough business to keep you in the black. Those standbys, unfortunately, are no longer sufficient, especially considering that your competitors are doing more to promote their services.

As more Americans take the entrepreneurial plunge, marketing your business becomes more critical than ever. However, marketing to stay competitive does not necessarily mean that you will spend more money. Aligning your marketing with you Web-savvy clients can start relatively quickly using these three tactics as a jump-off point. You may not see results immediately, but they will put you on the path to a more complete marketing strategy.

  1. Get on the SEO Bandwagon – Simply put, Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) is an ongoing strategy to make it easier for search engine users to find you. Many business owners are frustrated that Google does not display a link to their Web site when clients search for their practice area. How do you get your site on the first page? A good SEO plan will help you achieve that. Start by implementing some easy SEO tactics to get you started.
  2. Hire a Marketing Partner – Marketing differs significantly today than it did just a few years ago. Using the Web, a good marketing partner will evaluate your Web presence and help you pull in clients that are searching for legal services. Potential clients are no longer looking to print directories to find you, so reduce your spend on Yellow Page ads and redirect that money towards a marketing partner with a proven track record. Among other marketing partners, Total Attorneys will provide you Web based marketing and several other peripheral services on a pay-per-contact basis. Do your research and find which of the many partners out there work best for you.
  3. Embrace Social Media – Social media is the new face of the Web for a good reason; people use it consistently and in droves. They use it to discuss everything from politics to baby products, and you have the opportunity to join the conversation. Use social media as a networking tool to showcase, not only your expertise, but your firm’s culture. Start a Facebook page and put up pictures of events at your firm to reduce the intimidation that potential clients may feel. As you use social media you will find other tools you can leverage, like LinkedIn and Twitter. Keep in mind, social networking is not an advertising campaign, so do not measure results against ROI for your traditional marketing efforts. Focus, instead, on relationship building to create referrals sources.

Although the tools have changed, the goal of your marketing strategy is still to get clients in the door. Furthermore, these new tools extend your reach beyond what was possible just a few years ago. Explore what the new Web has to offer, and discover what tools work best for you.

Have you found any other ways that leverage the Web to generate more business?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Maximizing Technology Dollars

Using Cloud Computing to Lower your Tech-Spend

Regardless of your industry, it’s likely that you are feeling the squeeze from today's challenging economic climate. In an effort to stay in the black, several small businesses are cutting back on their non-business critical expenses; one of those expenses can be technology. Driven by cost cutting, several small businesses are exploring cloud computing as a way to trim the fat from their technology investment.

What is that cloud computing?

More likely than not, you are using a cloud computing applications already (also called Software-as-a-Service or SaaS in some smaller applications). For instance, Web-based e-mail and online office tools, like Gmail, Google Docs or LexisNexis are cloud applications. Essentially, cloud applications are software programs you use over the Web, requiring less upfront investment and fewer maintenance headaches.

The nice thing about software in the cloud is that it does not cost you maintenance overhead. Think of cloud computing as buying utilities for your home. Analogous to the cloud computing, you would not build a generator in your backyard for electricity. Rather, you let the electric company distribute that cost to all its users. In the same way, cloud applications do not require buying hardware, services or maintenance contracts.

As an added bonus, cloud computing enables you to leverage the same technology muscle as large businesses without all of the costs they incur. For small businesses, this means playing on a more level playing field. Today, cloud computing providers are entering the market for just about every industry, including, health-care, legal, accounting, and sales. The most prominent example of cloud applications today is SalesForce, which provides a Customer Relationship Management ("CRM") tool for Sales and other related industries.

Cloud Computing Adoption

Cloud computing (and SaaS technology) has been around for at least a decade; so, why is cloud computing making headway now? The most important reason is the affordability, reliability and speed of your Internet connection. Being a remotely hosted service, cloud computing requires a fast and stable connection out to the Web to access your data. Internet connections are truly more reliable today. In fact, you will more likely have more downtime with your in-house technology versus downtime with a cloud provider because of a failed connection to the Web.

For small businesses, trusting someone else with their sensitive data can be extremely daunting. But, do not fret. Cloud providers will do a better job securing your data than you can. On your own hardware, chances are you risk hardware theft by employees or anyone else who has access to your computers – authorized or unauthorized. Secondly, you probably do not know much about data encryption. So, to cut your technology-spend the right way, find a reputable provide and begin exploring cloud computing for your business.

Read about Ed Scanlan’s adoption of Cloud computing at Total Attorneys.

What Cloud/SaaS services are available in your industry? What has been your experience with Cloud computing?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Will Bing Create More Work For Your Business?

Small business owners today realize that potential customers have abandoned Yellow Page directories in favor of search engines. Whether it be law, dentistry, or landscaping, your customers are searching one of the many search engines out there to find you. Much to your relief, however, the vast majority of your customer-base uses Google.

Google's dominance works to your advantage because you only need to ensure that customers can find you when they search Google. However, Google's position as "king-of-the-search engine" is being challenged by a serious contender - Microsoft.

A few weeks ago, Microsoft launched a new search engine called Bing that the folks out in Redmond hope will be the next...well, Google. What does that mean for small businesses? If Microsoft succeeds, small businesses may have to adjust their strategies to make it easy for customers to find them on Google AND Bing. That unfortunately would mean more time marketing.

However, its not clear yet how different Bing's algorithms are than Google's. If they are significantly different, which the Bing commercials suggest, small businesses owners have to be ready to react so the Bing population can find you. The good news is, the Bing population is still relatively small and declining.

StatCounter reports that, after Bing's introduction, Bing (teal-blue line) peaked at about 16% market share, surpassing Yahoo (yellow line). More interestingly, Bing's user-base seemed to come directly from Google (red line). Notice Google's inverse usage-rates in comparison to Bing's. Based on StatCounter's data, it seems like Bing lost the curiosity factor and Google is back where it started - the overwhelming market leader.

Small business owners can take a temporary sigh of relief, but the battle far from over. Microsoft has sunk about $100 million into Bing, and are not likely to quit marketing Bing. So, SEO pros will undoubtedly continue exploring Bing's behavior, and I will keep you posted.

Have you tried Bing? Did you find any differences between Bing and Google?