Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is Your Social Media Strategy Looking as Abandoned as My Lawn?

As I drove up my long driveway this evening and winced, I realized that many companies’ social media marketing strategies remind me of my lawn. (What? you ask? Let me explain…)

I have a relatively large front yard, and friends keep telling me I should just hire a lawn service. My thought: sure, I’m very busy, but c’mon, I can mow my own lawn, for heavens sake! I think it’s my dad’s voice screaming in my head: “Why would I pay someone to do what I am fully capable of doing myself?” It is a sentiment to which any child of a military man or any small business owner can relate.

The result of that thinking? Well… let’s just say I’m laying low, as I’m sure my neighbors (rightfully) roll their eyes at the eye-sore of a meadow my yard has become because I simply have not had time to address it. Sort of like the eye roll I (and customers) experience when I see the blogs (or Facebook or Twitter accounts) of companies who asked for advice from a consultant or, perhaps, read a few articles, then said: “for heaven’s sake! I can do that myself!”

Of course they can! Just like I can mow my own lawn. But, do they have time to do it properly? Or are they announcing their social media presence to the world with great enthusiasm, then getting caught up in the more important tasks of their day-to-day business and letting their P.R./marketing efforts go to pasture? Too often, the latter. Leaving an abandoned Facebook fan page or a blog that hasn’t been updated in several weeks… meaning they are not only forgotten but, in this age of instant-information and constant communications, perhaps also have lost some credibility with their fans or followers.

Not. Good.

If you can’t stay abreast of social media or your public relations outreach, and you won’t get help to assist you in doing so, then my best advice is to avoid it altogether. Not a wise business strategy, given the increasingly competitive marketplace and the importance of having a social media presence to communicate with discerning consumers, but much wiser than appearing lazy or inattentive. Of course, those perceptions are clearly not true, as small business owners have roughly a gazillion things to address daily. But, well: appearances are everything.

So, lest you think I’m judging, I will openly admit that I’ve neither hired a lawn service nor hauled the mower out of the shed, as I still convince myself that “I can do it!” (to the chagrin of my poor neighbors). Business, however, is business. So, were I trying to interest buyers in an effort to sell my house? Well, then, let’s just say I’d have the lawn service on speed dial. Because paying to communicate a good impression is far less expensive than trying to erase a bad one.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How PR Works for a Small Biz (Let Miamore Count the Ways...)

By now, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know about my client Tomgirl Tours. Tomgirl's CEO, Lori Carr, is a dream client for a boutique PR firm: she runs a small (relatively new) business that has a fantastic story and an innovative niche (all-inclusive adventure and culinary girlfriend getaway tours to the most AMAZING places). Better, she understands that, regardless of the economy at the moment, a higher-end company that doesn't get its name out there and doesn't remain true to its upscale image has little hope of surviving, much less growing. Better still, she gets both the importance of social media marketing and the fact that even a small business needs to delegate and can't do everything on its own.

Miamore Communications has been working with Tomgirl Tours for 10 weeks. In that time, Miamore hit the "traditional" media, of course, but also encouraged Tomgirl to experiment in the social media realm. Lori gave me a relatively loose leash (did I mention that she's a dream client for a publicist?!) and stepped outside the small business comfort zone.

So, after just 10 weeks, what does Tomgirl Tours have to show for their investment in Miamore Communications and a public relations campaign? Here are some are some highlights:

Traditional media:
  • An extensive on-air interview with Stephanie Abrams, the world's foremost radio travel expert (who boasts syndication in every major and minor U.S. market). Click here.
  • Major coverage in both the leading travel trade magazine (here) and one of the New York metro area's top leading daily newspaper (here)

Social (or online) media:
  • A dedicated Twitter media account that is not only followed by, but has established communication with, travel-specific reporters and bloggers
  • A new blog that generated 100+ hits in just its first couple days online
  • Mentions in 200+ (ok, honestly: I'm not a statistician; I stopped counting around 180, when my eyes blurred) travel websites and blogs
  • A doubling in traffic to Tomgirl Tours' main website the weekend the blog launched (and was promoted via various social medium)

Big public relations firms love to "spin"--everything from facts to numbers. I am a fan of neither the traditional PR machine nor "spinning". As a former journalist, I instead advocate transparency in publicity efforts. However, if I were to play that game--and, with clients always reporting back to me with big-firm "spin"--I will play that game for a moment: in little more than 1 month, we have achieved more than 65,000 online impressions for Tomgirl Tours. For a brand like Chanel, that's child's play. For small companies that (be honest) rarely generate more than 25 impression a day? That's pretty major.

My point: clearly, times are tough. But, if you are a small firm, you don't need a million-dollar marketing budget, nor a slick PR firm, to grow your reputation and business. But you do need to delegate and find a specialist--devoid of spin--who understands both the nuances of the rapidly evolving public relations world, and the financial challenges you face as a indie business in a tough economy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Industry Uses Social Media to Mourn Traditional Media

Today was an interesting day for those in the jewelry industry. One of the venerable old B2B magazines, Modern Jeweler, ceased operation. This comes on the heels of another venerable old brand, JCK, (my former magazine) coming within inches of suicide by annihilating its staff several months ago. These are magazines that each boast a 100+-year history. 

All afternoon, Facebook and Twitter were abuzz with the news. My own FB post alone received multiple replies almost immediately. Most agreed with my statement about being saddened by the news (and it is, indeed, incredibly sad). There were comments that ranged from "hating" what is happening to the industry, to horror that knowledgeable voices were being silenced, to "what will be left when we get through this recession?"

As someone who worked within this tight-knit industry for more than a decade, I can relate to the sentiments entirely. The fine jewelry industry, perhaps more than any other, resists change and values its old-school "relationship"-based history. However, as someone one step removed, and now very much immersed in analyzing the changing media as I strategize forward-thinking brand development and public relations/marketing plans, the contradiction between sentiment and reality strikes me as an astounding study in modern "communications"... for not just the jewelry industry, but for businesses, journalists and PR specialists in any field:

Several hours post announcement, Facebook and Twitter continue to buzz about the news that the industry has lost a respected traditional B2B magazine. At the same time, of the three remaining jewelry B2B pubs, only one has posted the news on their website (there is nothing to be found about it on the other two major jewelry publications' sites). Further, the one magazine that did post a story received no comments about it. 

And therein lies the irony. If ever there was a clear-cut example of how social media is reshaping the world of business--and sidelining traditional media that doesn't keep up--it is this event today. One of my FB friends expressed hope that the editors of the now-defunct magazine will maintain a social media presence. I second that... while the "traditional" publication may be gone, the vast knowledge of its editors need not be lost. Instead, take this news and the resulting reaction is a perfect example of how media (and business) is evolving. While change isn't ever comfortable, and no one is certain of what lies ahead, at least one positive seems assured: Whatever may come, the voices are not silenced and information is not stifled... I'd venture to say the voices are louder and clearer; and the information is spreading at a faster rate than ever before. Instead, the mode of communication is simply evolving.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Networking: A Business Basic Worth Revisiting

I've had networking on my mind this week. And by networking, I mean the good old-fashioned,  face-to-face variety. Amid the myriad of things you must do when launching a business (or maintaining a business, or growing a business!) is networking until you think you can't possibly smile anymore. And then, networking some more. While I'm clearly a huge fan of social media and other promotions, nothing beats getting your face out there and forming personal connections. 

Yes, this is Business 101. Yet the subject of networking has come up randomly in several conversations this week and I found a common feeling among a variety of business professionals: networking is, at best, tolerable and, at worst, miserable, for one main reason: too many groups that claim to be for networking really amount to private clubs. As one businesswoman so hilariously said to me this week about a certain local business "networking" group: "I stopped going; they're so clique-y that I forever felt like the fat girl at the junior high school dance." I've had my own similar experience with a particular women's group that I can only describe as slightly less inclusive than the characters in the film Mean Girls

Baffling, isn't it? The basic idea of networking is to expand your contacts and, ultimately, grow your business. And, especially in this economy, who doesn't need to do a little of that?

I offer up as a positive example the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. Admittedly, after said experience with the "Mean Girls", I most definitely fell into the networking-is-a-necessary-evil category. This week, however, I walked into a Chamber event, knowing not a soul in the room, and was met by an "ambassador" Terri Abbruzzese of Warwick RI-based PuroClean. Terri introduced me around and generally made sure I felt comfortable and welcome. Helping her in that task was, well, pretty much everyone else at the event. Ahhh, I thought. A networking event where people actually want to network. Heaven!

I understand from my own experience in groups where I was a long-standing member... it is all too easy to fall into the comfort zone of chatting with those you already know. But, consider: by not introducing yourself to that fat girl at the junior high school dance, you just might have missed out on meeting the love of your life or the most loyal best friend of your life. Don't similarly let opportunity slip away for your business.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Think Social Media Is for Kids? Think again...

I've had several business owners tell me they are hesitant and don't know if they should use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media for business purposes ("Teenagers aren't my audience" is a favorite objection). While I scratch my head at that idea, I do understand: this is a new frontier and many still cling to the outdated social media stereotype set long ago by the likes of MySpace

Research on social media use is scattered and spotty, with no major, well-known authority. So, I've been on one of those get-lost-in-cyberspace hunts to track down data. To keep things as orderly as possible, I focus here on the hottest social medium: Twitter. What I found didn't surprise me, but it might surprise those who resist because they think social media is for their teenaged kids, not for their own business. Here is some key insight (follow links for full reports):

Enough? (If not, let me know, I'm obsessed at the moment!) The point is, there is a major shift in business right now; specifically in marketing a business (and, of course, in the field of public relations... but that is another post). 

As I do this research and sense the change, it reminds me of a personal family story: I'm not sure of the date, but sometime in the late 60s/early 70s, my dad, who was in the military, was offered a job in a craaaazy new area: computers and networking. As a man with a young family, it was a risky proposition that raised the skeptical eyebrows of my grandparents. Dad, however, took the leap (and, needless to say, never regretted it). So, was he a visionary or a wild risk taker? Not really. He simply did his homework and smelled the winds of change. 

Now, four decades later, when I hear resistance to social media and this undeniable evolution in the marketplace, I bite my tongue and offer the data above. On the inside, however, I'm screaming: Hey! Can you smell that?? It is those wind of change again...