The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media: A Fine Line

January 12, 2011

This is a guest post from Marc Levine, social media director for RiaEnjolie, a website developer for small business owners. Marc shares some best practices he uses to get the most out of social media highlighting some of the things we need to consider when jumping into social media.

Be Wary of the Fine Line.

We all must all do our part to ensure that the Era of Social Media is never referred to as the Age of Irresponsibility.

Every one of us needs to be extremely careful and overly thoughtful while engaging with others in Social Media. Social Networking is a honeybee with a huge stinger. In the same way that the honeybee is responsible for a bounty of beautiful flowers, Social Media offers us many of a wonderful way to connect with the world.  However, if we are reckless with our online relationships and are not careful choosing the words — and photos — we post online, we can easily be stung by the bee. The results can be very painful in a variety of ways, and in some cases, fatal to our reputations.

The fact is that full-blown Social Media has only been around for about half of a decade. It is still a very youthful and impetuous communications medium. It has a lot of growing up to do and so do we as its users. The problem with anything so new is that we really “don’t know what we don’t know” about it.  The human relations and legal implications of Social Media are not fully understood and those exposures inherent within its engagements are highly unpredictable and potentially dangerous.  This is largely because we are dealing with a myriad of people coming to us from diverse cultures and backgrounds; each having their own set of values, ideals, expectations, tastes and motives. The latter are not always respectable.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Anton Chekhov

Further complicating this complex dynamic is the understanding that Social Networking is a form of communication devoid of body language. This is particularly problematic because in Social Media we are only using words to express our thoughts. We are without the help of our usually telling gestures and universally understood facial expressions, which we exhibit to others in our face-to face exchanges. It is these expressions and gestures that give our words their correct meaning and proper context. 

If you have ever seen the hit Fox television show, “Lie to Me,” starring the accomplished British actor Tim Roth, you’ll know exactly what I mean. In that show, trained law enforcement experts read and interpret the body language of suspects to determine whether or not they are telling the truth. A slight facial tic, subtle eye aversion or prominent swallow at a key moment during interrogation might reveal their guilt.

Most Social Media platforms do not allow for any physical expression and this can often lead to mistaken interpretations of one’s actual intent. And, because most Social Media takes place on either side of a one-way computer monitor, our inhibitions are also sometimes short-circuited; permitting inappropriate behaviors to take place. Don’t forget that whenever we interact with other people, it’s all about their perceptions and personal interpretations. We must always be aware of this for our own reputation management and that of anyone else we may happen to be representing, personally or professionally. A false impression can be just as damaging as the real thing.

 “Consequences are the scarecrows of fools and the beacons of wise men.”  

-Thomas Henry Huxley

Threat from anything with risk potential stemming from the volatility of casual and candid human interaction can sometimes bring with it the most unanticipated, unpleasant and costly consequences. When such exposures involve privacy matters, they represent — without a doubt — a potential landmine for somebody. Put all such concerns together in a single place and what you have created for yourself and often for others is a “perfect storm” of legal headaches. Since Social Media is a fairly new interactive phenomenon, there is very little case law on the books to help the legal system rule, fairly. What can judges and juries really count on to help them decide the innocence or guilt of individuals and businesses accused of crossing the lines of responsible and lawful behavior? It is much like a doctor performing a new operation for the very first time.   

Beyond the legal system, there is also the court of public opinion and its close relative — the news media. They often work hand-in-hand as judge, jury and even as executioner. Lives and reputations can often hang in the balance. Many a robust career and solid marriage have been ruined as a result of someone’s deliberate actions or even careless mistakes. And, others have unfairly suffered loss and indignity from an unfortunate misinterpretation or misunderstanding. After all, we are all not equally gifted as flawless communicators.

The stakes are very high. Social Media must always be respected and handled with kid gloves. After all, it is just a “thing,” with no soul and no conscience. It only does what we tell it to do and what we do may be viewed by millions of judgmental readers – some with significant influence in our own lives. 

“The higher the risk, the more necessary it is to engage everyone’s commitment and intelligence.”
- Margaret J. Wheatley

I have a rather unique professional background, which lends itself well to this discussion. After a long career in human resources and staffing industry management, I transitioned to Social Media Marketing. My intent was to try something different and to refresh my career interests. Should I be very surprised by what I have found in my new career? I have quickly discovered that Social Media, today, is where “personnel” was when I first met up with it back in the late 1970s. That was shortly before it matured into what we presently call “Human Resources.”  By the way, the late 1970s was still a long time before anyone ever considered the idea of PHR and SPHR certifications for the field. In fact, back in those days, “personnel” wasn’t even really a legitimate career field. It was largely an administrative job involving mostly paperwork completion, filing and almost no decision-making.

What made Human Resources a “meatier” career field? With the advice of their lawyers, average employees realized that they could sue their employers over matters of age discrimination, sexual harassment, exposure to toxic chemicals, accidents in the workplace and a whole host of other things. The increasing threat of potential litigation involving employees and even job applicants created the need for a new strategic partner in the executive boardroom. Almost overnight, the personnel clerk was morphed into the human resources generalist.

Over the past 30 years, Human Resources can be credited with saving companies billions of dollars in losses, due to their wise counsel and their vigilant oversight of their function.

“Nothing in life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood.”  - Marie Curie

My post is not written to scare people away from using Social Media. The ongoing legal challenges associated with the hiring and firing of people didn’t make companies stop doing these things. It just made CEOs and other business people take a few steps back and make some important decisions about what they needed to do to reduce their exposures. Their thinking gave birth to the field of Human Resources. Today and every day, these professionals work side-by-side with their senior managers and employment attorneys to react and pro-act to the threats that businesses may face from a variety of potential litigants. 

Fortunately, those in the business world engaging in Social Media have the benefit of having Human Resources and legal counsel around to help keep them out of trouble. But, without lots of solid planning and careful forethought, Social Media use can still result in embarrassing and costly mistakes. All parties must be willing to closely work together to better educate themselves and to train others in the responsible use of Social Media. 

Social Media DEFINITELY requires clearly written and strictly adhered to policies and procedures; comprehensive and up-to-date training; full ACCOUNTABILITY and reams of supporting DOCUMENTATION, just like the field of Human Resources also requires to defend a company and/or employee when it becomes necessary.

Please forgive me for saying this, but I have found that the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same. This is especially true during the evolution of Social Media. For me, coming from the field of Human Resources, it’s deja vu all over again.

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Tips on How to Get the Most out of Social Media Marketing

January 5, 2011

This is a guest post from Marc Levine, social media director for RiaEnjolie, a website developer for small business owners. Marc shares some best practices he uses to get the most out of social media.

Social Media Marketing Requires Focus and Discipline

Effective Social Media Marketing requires strong multi-tasking and solid organization skills. Without these two key requirements, a small business owner can be easily overwhelmed and consumed by a “beast” starved for jealous attention and fruitless labor. Social Media Marketing is a “beast” that makes no promises for success or ever feels the need to apologize for bad results, despite the best efforts of marketers. Indeed, Social Media Marketing makes the strongest possible argument for planning to working smarter, rather than simply working harder…and longer.

The Blogs are overflowing with “how to” lessons on “taming the beast,” we call Social Media Marketing. You don’t have to look very hard to find blog posts that promise great results from a one-hour daily commitment in Social Media. Is this not possible? I suppose it is; depending on a number of unique variables that begin with having a realistic set of goals and expectations. What works well for some may not work as well for others. So, don’t be disappointed if what you read somewhere was not the panacea you hoped it might be. Your situation may require an entirely different approach.

Let me tell you what works for me. I can’t guarantee it will work for you, but it may – at least – be a starting point for your own Social Media effectiveness trials. Taken together with the advice of others, some personal tweaking may result in creating a workable plan exclusively for you and your business.

In my position as Social Media Director for a growing web design company, RiaEnjolie, Inc., I am charged with contributing directly to the corporate marketing effort, as well as assisting the many small business owners that purchase their new websites from RiaEnjolie. My major goals are to increase Brand Awareness for RiaEnjolie, as well as to “converse” with our customers and prospects, so as to better understand their needs and help them in their own Social Media Marketing efforts. 

These are rather modest goals with an expected ROI measured mostly in customer smiles and business compliments. For a company that is young and relatively new in Social Media, RiaEnjolie is confident that it has started in – exactly – the right place with the appropriate focus and a reasonable set of expectations. Let me explain more about our use of Social Media.

We find that Facebook and Twitter work particularly well for us. We focus most of our attention on these two sites, in addition to the regular blogging we do. If you know where your target audience generally “hangs out,” you need to go there and invite everyone else to join you. These places, along with your own Website, become your “base of operations”…your primary residence, so to speak. If one has too many homes to maintain, it becomes very expensive and time consuming. This is also true in Social Media for those who attempt too much. Therefore, if Facebook is your primary choice, you need not apologize for not participating on MySpace, as well. Just be sure to direct everyone to where you can usually be found (on the Web) and they will eventually arrive there, as long as you offer them some real value.

Once you have established your “base of operations,” consider what your presence will be like once there. In other words, “when can you most often be found at home?”  

They say that the single best time to Tweet is 9:00 am PST (Pacific Standard Time). They also say that the best time to get re-Tweeted is 4:00 pm EST on Fridays. These recommendations offer an educated framework to consider for “planning when to be home” in Social Media. In fact, there is plenty of free automation software available such as “Tweetdeck” and “Hootsuite” to program tweets for when you are not physically available on the Web. My recommendation, though, are to use these programs very sparingly. They are increasingly seen as very impersonal. They often come across more like annoying sales tools than true relationship builders. 

Each day, I schedule about three Social Media sessions for myself. Each session runs about thirty minutes. I base my activity on peak user times reported in online studies. My online sessions are often supplemented with additional tweets and posts – throughout the day – as interesting news and tips come my way. This is why I keep Twitter and Facebook minimized on my laptop, all day.

Each morning after calling up my web browser, I open up four screens before minimizing three of them. Up and running, concurrently are:

1.  Twitter

2.  My Facebook Group (Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses)

3.  Bit.ly (a URL shortening tool)

4   Google.

Next, I search Google News for a short list of topics to be shared with our audience.

RiaEnjolie shares the latest news and tips for Social Media, Small Business, Website Design and Charity Programs. The searches are refined to “past hour” results to help insure we are among the first to Tweet and post this news. In fact, rather than burden followers and “friends” with article links, I carefully review each item for its content value and for any quotable quotes by the principals in the article or post. Often the best quotes come from people we have not heard of before and what they have to share – in just a few words – sums up the entire article their views are contained within. Make no mistake that quotes are very re-Tweetable. Just make sure to give each quote a related category with a hashmark in front of it (i.e. #smallbusiness) so that others can search for it, find it easily on Twitter and attribute it to you, as its original Tweeter.

Beyond sound bytes, any article or post we read has intellectual value. We either agree or disagree with its contents. It is a definite learning experience for us and often the source of good debate.  So, we gain something to internalize and to share with others in the form of a Tweet; a re-Tweet; a Facebook post; an E-mail to someone we know; or it might even become the subject our next blog article. And, while we are at it, we can comment on the article or the post we are reading; leaving behind our professional footprint and a valuable backlink for our own website.

With all four of the above mentioned screens available on my desktop, I essentially become a Social Media production company. I am able to create split screens and multi-task the information that I am working with in a number of different ways. At the very same time that I may be tweeting some memorable quote, I can also be expanding on the same thought with an insightful – and sometimes provocative – post to my Facebook Group audience.  Thinking man’s Social Media at its best.

If a link is particularly long and takes up too many Twitter characters, Bit.ly is also open and ready to go for creating short URLs. Keeping these few platform and tool screens open throughout the day, saves time and allows for a smooth and steady flow of content from reading to analysis to publication and commenting. Since much of this also plays into analytics, measurement is also possible through Google Analytics and other similar programs.

None of this stuff is rocket science. It is mostly based on individual and collective user experience.  The technology is all here and we just have to consider how best to use it to achieve our unique goals. There are even better ways to do the things I just described. I am confident you and others will find them through your own exploration, trial and error. Meanwhile, my system works for me. There is no right or wrong, just satisfaction. If you feel comfortable with a plan that gets you the results you are looking for, that’s three-quarters of the challenge.

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3 Basic Social Media Tips For All Local Home Improvement Contractors

August 31, 2010

Today we have a guest post by Marc D. LeVine, Director of Social Media for Riaenjolie Inc, a web development company that specializes in websites for contractors and other tradespeople. If you’re a contractor, look at his tips to help improve your site.

Darren Salyer of Total Home Remodeling in Wentzville, MO has been running FaceBook ads since December 2009.  By March 2010, he had only spent a total of $125 dollars to gain some needed attention for his then struggling business.

As a result of his dabbling in Social Media Marketing (SMM), Darren’s Facebook fan page received eighty-four clicks over the three month period with about sixty-five of those visitors moving on to review his business website.

It would seem that the marketing effort paid off for Total Home Remodeling, which was rewarded with three nice jobs to bid on. The total value of the three bids was $87,000. Not bad for a $125 total investment.

Under the marketing blog where Darren Salyer posted the results of his online marketing strategy, he reported that “things look good” for getting all three of these contracts signed. Regardless of the final outcome, he snagged three promising opportunities that may not otherwise have come his way had he not given FaceBook’s pay-per-click advertising a try.

Hard Times Call For Hard and Fast Solutions

The current recession has taken its toll on the construction industry. Many independent contractors have been forced to close up shop; while those still hanging on have had to cut back and revise their marketing strategies as Darren Salyer may also been forced to do.

Strapped for cash, many small contractors have had to resort to lower-cost business marketing ideas to bring in more work. Social Media Marketing has proved to be rather effective in helping some of these builders and handymen reach out to a new audience of Web savvy consumers; many of whom live locally and are  in need of  quality home improvement services.

Local contractors are, for the most part, chasing the same limited pool of work in their area and should be seeking out marketing strategies and tactics to help them stand out among those in an increasingly competitive crowd. The Web offers these small business owners what may be the marketing equivalent of “low price flights” to the usual year long PennySaver ads, which come with recurring cost. Very often these kind of local ads offer little or no response during extended periods throughout the year.

Andy Gaur, CEO of RiaEnjolie Inc., a New Jersey web page design company specializing in professional looking and affordable websites for general contractors and other tradespeople, is very well attuned to the world of traditional and social media marketing. “It is much better to be preparing a well conceived and comprehensive marketing plan and getting ready to use an appropriate mix of outreach strategies rather than just sticking with just one or two that haven’t been working so well lately for most general contractors,” says Gaur. “If you don’t jump on different things – like Social Media – that show promise, you may end up in a struggle to retain your current customers and fail to gain new ones that are unaware of your business and what you can offer them in quality workmanship, good service and competitive pricing.”

Social Media Can Add Depth to Your Marketing Effort

You say you don’t get Social Media? You will not get ‘it’ until you have experimented with ‘it.’ We all engage in Social Media Networking and Marketing in ways that suit our own unique needs and personal styles. Some use it to promote their business. Some use it to research information. Some use it to create a network of friends and business people to communicate with. And, others use it to “lurk” and listen to the conversations of others. For them it is a way to better understand different points of view.

Your time is at a premium, so take some baby steps with social media. Reconcile the time spent on Social Media Marketing by accepting the value of the “conversations” you’ll be soon be engaging in with your existing and potential customers.

No matter what your approach is to social media marketing, you should have a strategy and goal that keeps you focused on your target audience and the ultimate prize – doing business with them. Rather than complicate things too much, here are three steps that apply to almost every small business engaged in Social Media Marketing:

Tip 1: Listen. Blogger Tania Yuki in her post on comscore.com shares the following advice:

“People are talking about your business, so you may as well get down in the weeds and know what’s going on.”

Tip 2: Engage. “Social media is the tool, social engagement is what you do to create awareness and earn sales.” This is according to Social Media Guru, Brian Solis, who has offered a number of bestselling books dealing with Social Media for business. Solis goes on to explain that “Creating a presence in social networks is mandatory, but it’s also not enough. Actively and thoughtfully engaging consumers in social networks is quickly becoming an expectation. It’s up to your business to develop a following.”

Tip 3: Respond. Great response begins with great listening. Lindsay Lebresco of Conversation, a Social Media agency recommends the basics like Google Alerts, Twitter, Technorati and search engines to search out key categories – using keywords – that will let you know what people are saying about you and your business. Carefully read and understand what is being said; (if the remarks are negative) take a few deep breaths and perhaps sleep on it; think of a positive way to frame your response and respond in an appropriate manner.

Before You Can Soar You Must Build A Place to Land

Oh, by the way, there is a preliminary step to these three. You won’t be successful in social media marketing without, first, having an effective website for your consumers to visit when they want to check you out.  Most potential customers start their consideration process at your website. It must be professional looking, informative and able to bring them to whatever the next step is that you want them to take leading to doing business with you – a “call to action.”

So take a look at your website and ask yourself the following questions about it? Does Your Website Really Measure Up?

1. Is your website’s design aesthetically pleasing?
2. How intuitive is your website to navigate?
3. Does your website have a clear statement of PURPOSE near the top of its homepage?
4. Is your website copy concisely written and richly informative?
5. Do you update your website content REGULARLY?
6. Does your website have a “call to action” on every page for customers to respond to?
7. Does your website’s index page draw visitors further into its content and to where you display and sell your products and contract your services?
8. Is your website designed to encourage future visits (i.e. is there a newsletter; a tell-a-friend feature; a blog with an RSS button to subscribe with?)

Contractors, you can definitely “build some sweat equity” into the process of social media and most likely will get the business results you are looking for. You just need to be smart in the ways you employ the Internet in order to be easily found by consumers and then, be able to impress them when they land at your website for their very first time.

If your website passes the effectiveness test and if you have done all your homework with regard to local geo-search, you’ll be very pleased at the additional phone calls you’ll be getting from local customers looking for a reliable residential general contractor in the local area .

Marc LeVineAbout the Author:

Marc LeVine is the Director of Social Media for RiaEnjolie, Inc. (http://www.riaenjolie.com/construction-websites.html) a NJ-based web development company specializing in professional looking and affordable websites for small businesses.

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