Improve Customer Interaction on Social Media

Social media is an essential staple of customer interaction in today’s business world. No matter what your company’s focus is, social media is a tool you must take full advantage of. Here are a few steps toward improving your social media presence and engagement.

Facebook is your friend! The companies with the best customer-interaction strategies come up with new and unique ways to connect with their followers. It is important to present the company as a group of real people, with familiar faces, personalities, and an eagerness to connect as friends. Try highlighting your employees via your Facebook page. Emphasize their individual quirks and interests – try pairing current pictures with their baby photos or asking a weekly or biweekly question (“What are you listening to?” “What is the name of your pet?”).

Similarly try using Facebook to highlight your followers. This has the advantage of attracting interest and offering advantageous exposure to those you do feature. It helps make your viewers to feel part of the company and a fun, diverse community.

social mediaDon’t hesitate to get personal. Send shout-outs on Twitter to followers to compliment their achievements, record personalized video messages through Vine, thank someone for sharing your content, answer or ask questions. Similarly don’t avoid leaving a personal stamp on the Tweets. Some companies include the initials of the Tweeter inside the message or the Twitter handle of that person. It adds a very human touch and authenticates the interactions. Always respond to those who tweet toward your company to show that you appreciate the shout-out and value their input – whatever it might be.

If you have a LinkedIn Company Page, take advantage of their group functions which allows you up to three groups. Not only does this give your company more visibility, but it also gives you an additional opportunity to be involved in your industry’s discussions.

Pinterest also is a growing platform for customer interaction and sparking interest in your company. You can create company pins to promote your products, special offers, or announcements. Also you can collaborate with other users for that personal connection. Invite other users to pin to certain boards. Follow similar boards or users with similar interests. Comment on and repin other users’ pins. Make sure to use the platform for interaction as well as promotion.

Another place to maintain a presence is on Foursquare. Leaving tips and pieces of advice at your locations shows your investment in customer ease of action and connection. Try leaving a joke to emphasize your personable side. You can create lists as helpful resources for other people and promote visibility for your company.

The hashtag is a useful tool for encouraging interaction and offering customer promotion. Use Instagram’s personalized hashtags to stand out. Encourage your followers to utilize your hashtags and feature the best pictures on your page at the end of the week along with credit. At the end of the day, you will have a fun community, pleased customers, and increased traffic.

The only downside of having a variety of social media platforms is that maintaining the interaction and customer service is nearly a fulltime job. Expectations for response-time, personalized answers, and immediate solutions can be overwhelming. Be sure that you are prepared to handle these expectations and demands, as customers can be easily disappointed and emphasize the negative experiences. The best strategy is to select which platforms will give your business the best visibility and where your current and potential customers frequent. If you have the capability for a presence on a large variety of platforms, go for it! If you have any doubts about being able to keep up with the interaction, start small and add in additional platforms eventually.

Website Performance Optimization

Ideally, your website is your greatest tool for marketing and sales.  It is the face of your company and typically the first thing your viewers/future customers will see.  It is essential that your website’s performance is professional and top-notch, as sub-par performance can easy frustrate today’s tech-savvy audience and cause them to move on to the next option.

A landing page cuts out the middle man.  That way when a viewer reaches your site through a second party ad or a search for a specific phrase, instead of being directed to your site’s main page, they will instead end up on the page with the topic they were searching for.  The landing page goes the extra step in customer convenience.

Make sure your homepage is clear and concise.  Its job is to convey the intrinsic message of your site and then direct the viewers to the appropriate pages.  Either an overload of information or too little information will result in a confused viewer.  Let them know what your site it about and then designate clear pathways to more specific pages.

Social media is, without question, an excellent way to boost performance.  But this is more involved than merely including links to your Facebook or Twitter pages.  If you have interactive content, blogs, or newsletters, include the option to share the content on those social media platforms.  This is an easy way to interact with your viewer and let them share their interest.

Along the same lines as interactive content, give your viewers a reason to return.  A regularly updated blog, user-generated content, or several pages that change on a weekly basis (at least) will keep your viewers returning to check out new information.

It is important for you to stay up-to-date on your traffic, the average amount of time spent on your website, the last page visited before leaving, your conversation rate etc.  SmarterStats monitors traffic habits and helps you locate areas to adjust or improve on.

Speed is another intrinsic part of maintaining reader interest.  Some general tips for speeding up your performance: reduce image size, use a content delivery network, take advantage of caching, and minimize HTTP requests.  For this last tip (minimize HTTP requests), you will need to download every file (CSS, JavaScript, and images) your site uses to the browser.  Condensing all CSS files into one single spreadsheet will also have great benefits for the speed of your website’s performance.

 

Facebook Launches “Universities”

Facebook in the last 12 hours launched Universities on Facebook, a page geared to encouraging interaction between people attending universities. The page also provides deals on goods and services from popular brands like Utrecht Art, NewEgg.com and Eddie Bauer. While some of the offers still need to be ironed out, the prospect of network-specific content starts to rise.

For a enterprise level Facebook Application I’m working on, I have been trying to use the Open Graph API to determine where a user’s network, current city or states (of interests) exist and then serving up content based on the the response. If you’ve seen anything from popular fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King you’ll know that not all goods, services and specials are offered nationwide. McRib is a good example: despite availability of ingredients, labor for processing etc, the McRib is only ever around for a short period of time and in certain markets. If a brand like McDonalds wants to promote the McRib on Facebook – they can but they have to add a ton of disclaimers saying ‘price and participation may vary.’

Facebook Ads can be targeted at a particular user group, why not target your custom applications’ content? At the end of the day, a lot of brands utilizing Facebook‘s platform, like Yelp, are trying to provide more accurate, socially relevant and locally available content. While I want to be the first to provide the service, we can all benefit from network-relevant content. Universities – and Facebook’s other programs attempt to target types of users with relevant content and best practices.

I ‘like’ Universities and I have a major take away from this campaign (albeit only a few hours old):

I can target the set-up of my content on a demographic and then through carefully planned code I can target sub-groups of my desired demographic.

I keep harping on Facebook campaigns, but what are some of the focuses of your Facebook campaigns? I know part of how we target the ASPNix Facebook content is to be informative, among other initiatives. What is the focus of your Facebook (or social media) campaign?

What’s Better For Business: Facebook or Twitter?

When examining a social network, you should remember to use the network the way it was intended. Despite the fact that deploying a Facebook Page, multiple Twitter accounts or even a managed LinkedIn profile can help you establish a reputation or a brand online, you must cater to your audience.

Think of it this way: LinkedIn is like a Rolodex, Facebook is a little black book and Twitter is a cocktail party. In short: LinkedIn is for business connections, Facebook is for amicable connections, Twitter is for ad hoc connections. Users don’t use Facebook as their primary tool to search for real estate listings; they don’t use LinkedIn to find friends to go to happy hour with; they don’t use Twitter to shop for groceries. Each tool has an appropriate purpose and appropriate audience.

In the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) world, we preach about having quality content, and how, without quality content, no SEO campaign can be successful. A similar approach applies when promoting your business through social media networks. What is your quality content?

If our focus was promoting a creative agency, market your services – such as your branding, design for print and film and media – it doesn’t have to be your best work, but it does have to be high quality. Before you start promoting your business, you must acknowledge that people will search for your company online. At some point they’ll have seen or heard enough about your company to try and find your website. If your services are your quality content, have your general info, track record and reputation established in the actual content on your website. Once your website is clear on what you do (what your service offering is), you can begin to target an audience on social networks to promote your business.

What is it you are really trying to accomplish? Generate leads? Establish a reputation or customer loyalty? Share relevant industry information and opinion with (anyone)?

If you want to generate leads, demonstrate your expertise on LinkedIn: answer questions in topics relevant to your service offering. Create a company profile page and encourage employees or consultants to be linked to your page. Reach out to existing or former clients requesting recommendations of you or your staff. Establish your brand and expertise through the professional network.

If you want to take a strong stance and establish a social reputation online, create a Facebook Page for your business. using Facebook applications, connect your blog, Twitter, videos, photos, (the whole nine) and encourage your existing or past clients to be fans of your business profile. Start discussions around your industry perspectives, tag your clients, friends, etc in your posts: tags allow users’ to see themselves (or their pages) be mentioned and encourages them to offer a recommendation, referrals or references for the work you do. If customers have a problem with your product or service, there’s a chance they will post content to their Facebook profile. Perform regular searches for your company name, abbreviations or products offered to be sure to address any client or prospect complaints that may be circulating. LinkedIn is assumed to be completely professional, while Facebook is assumed to be more fun and where actions seldom result in long-term consequence is. Both require a degree of tact to manage your brand online: reputation management, albeit reactive at times, can appear proactive if you address customer concerns, suggestions and comments quickly.

If you want to share relevant industry information, perspectives, random ‘whatever’ with anyone on the internet, use Twitter. The 140 character limit requires you to be concise and engaging. You can put links in Twitter content, while they take some of your character allotment, they can help drive traffic to (anything). Twitter, as mentioned before, is a cocktail party: you can choose to follow, pay attention, subscribe to any conversation at the party. Likewise, you can be the center of attention one minute and suddenly everyone has migrated away to someone or something more interesting. Like with anything else, quality content is key.

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this Blogging in a Nutshell series, we talked about types of content to create, when to post and how to start driving traffic to your content. While self-promotion of your content is perfectly acceptable, users are skeptical of someone promoting their own content. You have done a ton of work up until now to create, schedule and syndicate your content, isn’t it time the users started to promote your content too?

Fostering Discussion

The easiest part of blogging is creating content: you are the expert in your field, you are the mastermind behind your company’s products and services, all you have to do is write about what you already know. A more difficult task is driving traffic to your website, gaining popularity without your blog having an established reputation. The most difficult task is providing enough foundation for your users to start a discussion among themselves about your content.

Many journalists start out writing  or blogging wanting to change the world, tell a story, broadcast their ideas or opinions to a massive audience, or demonstrate something that they personally deem worthy. Many editors and publishers are focused on driving revenue from their magazine or blog. Getting users to return to your website to read or browse your content is the third major challenge in maintaining a blog. What was once a proximity-based discussion around newspapers and magazine articles can now happen between a greater sized audience without the discussion being limited people’s physical location. However, there must be a balance between making a point, driving revenue and fostering discussion.

Your content is your point: talk about your products and services, their benefit to your customers, their potential benefit to your prospects, how industry-related technology or government-sponsored legislature supports or challenges your company.

Your revenue is from your website and in generating leads: readers of your content may be presented with ads once they arrive on your website, opportunities to be sold on products or services presented by you or affiliates, viewers of your blog can be considered warm leads, readers of your blog can be considered hot leads, some viewers may even contact you directly – as a content owner or company representative – to learn more information about your company.

Your discussion can be brought on by many things: your content drives readers to think critically about something, your content provokes readers into a reaction (positive or negative), your content is shared on an individual level from your blog to a reader’s network (social, email or otherwise), the more interesting or provocative something is the more readers you’ll get to participate.

It is acceptable for users to have negative reaction to your content provided they participate in discussion explaining why. Typically a negative review of a product or service gets around to other people faster than a positive review. If readers are presented with an opportunity to express their reaction, talk through it and discuss their point of view with other readers, your discussion – albeit initially negative – has been accomplished. Remember, (however) that every second is a deadline: what is important content now, is important now, not a week from now. A user has the ability to dismiss your content without any consequence to them, find an alternate source or blog to read about – at which time your point, revenue and discussion are lost to that user. If your goal is fostering discussion or provoking reactions, timely quality content is a good means to start discussion.

If you missed previous parts, you can always go back to Part 1 and Part 2.

What If Facebook Started Its Own Web Search Engine?

A while back, Facebook’s number of weekly hits surpassed hits to Google. This has brought about discussion related to what (else) Facebook could accomplish if it put effort towards other market segments in addition to their social network. Could this milestone be a sign that Facebook, if they so desired, has the strength and means to enter into Google’s search market?

Bing’s search engine is what currently powers the web-based search results provided by Facebook. A big part of the reason why Google is successful is they go out of their way to provide exceptional service(s) for users. Facebook, in a way, already does this: users on Facebook who utilize the search function are most likely looking for Facebook-related material.

In an article from InsideFacebook.com around the same time, there’s a blip about how the recent redesign of Facebook’s layout creates a better opportunity for users to find what they want by searching, rather than combing through sub-links and multiple profiles. Moreover: Bing, being the web-search-engine powering Facebook, is now incorporating meta data from user statuses (which likely means tags as well) into search results. Facebook’s UI and interactions seem to change on a daily basis, but the 30,000+ servers used to support Facebook have changes rolling out constantly and by regions – it’s difficult to tell when everyone has the same search results or expected behavior from Facebook.

I believe the question we should try to answer would be: ‘What if someone tried to encroach on Google’s Market (related to Search)?‘ Facebook, as a social media application, is not the application to do it. Bing, however, powered Facebook meta-data, may be a better candidate to analyse for taking on some of Google’s market share (in search). That said, modify the focus of the question to be “What if Bing starts using Facebook data to power their search results, what will that mean for Google’s market related to search?” Zombies Oh My God: the Privacy Policy wars would wage on for years!

Facebook will not get into web-based search like Google and Bing. The key component of Facebook is the social network(s) that are available to users: Friends, family members, co-workers, etc. A recommendation on a service provider, restaurant, church or concert from a friend of family member (or someone you trust (within reason) who would be a connection on said social network) is more valuable than a web-search result. To Facebook’s advantage, said services and amenities often have Facebook Pages. A co-worker can recommend a service provider, through Facebook, linking to an appropriate page, also on Facebook and the user never leaves the social networking site. Also, it turns out if you are running Facebook Ad campaigns, if you link to a Facebook page, post or profile with your ad, cost-per-click rates are considerably less than linking off of Facebook.

Therefore, I would offer that Facebook may create a niche within search that allows users to search for service providers, amenities or what-have-you and each result is paired with meta-data from trusted members of your network. Ex. Searching for a restaurant or happy hour location yields a list of 5 local results, 3 of which have Facebook Pages, of which one of those Facebook Pages your best friend or sister is ‘a fan of.’ This yields instant credibility, as associated with someone you already trust, for a business or service provider.

Facebook: Adding the ‘Like’ Button

So at some point I will give a general ‘why social media and why you should care’ story, but let’s not waste time with that now. Let’s get right into the thick of things. Have a WordPress blog or WordPress-powered website? Want to add a ‘like’ button? Ok, let’s get down to business. The first thing you’ll want to do is change the namespace of your HTML document. Get into the header.php file of your theme. Typically located in /wp-content/themes/[themename]/header.php – You’ll find these lines of code right at the top of this file. We want to change the attributes of the HTML tag.

<?php
/**
 *
 * @package WordPress
 * @subpackage DeptofAwesome
 */
?>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" <?php language_attributes(); ?> >
We’ll want to change the xmlns (XML Name Space) of our HTML document. Note that changing the header.php file will update all pages that use this include file will be affected. We want to add the Open Graph protocol and the Facebook protocol like this:
<?php
/**
 *
 * @package WordPress
 * @subpackage DeptofAwesome
 */
?>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"
     xmlns:og="http://opengraphprotocol.org/schema/"
     xmlns:fb="http://www.facebook.com/2008/fbml"
     <?php language_attributes(); ?> >
Adding the following code attributes to your <html> tag allows for Open Graph and Facebook objects to work on your site:

xmlns:og="http://opengraphprotocol.org/schema/"
xmlns:fb="http://www.facebook.com/2008/fbml"
Now to add the ‘Like’ button to your posts. The button is based on a page’s URL. If you have a blog that’s showing multiple posts, we just have to define the button to pull the URL for each post. A simple and standard button code looks like this:
<?php
/**
 *
 */
?>

<fb:like href="yourlinkhere" show_faces="false"
     width="300" font="arial"></fb:like>
There are additional configuration options, little tweaks to the button to try and match the motif of your design, but we’re just keeping things simple for now. You’ll want to now go into your main index template found in /wp-content/themes/[themename]/index.php – there’s a tag that’ll have a class of id named ‘postmetadata’ that we care about. In this example, the post meta data (tags, links, comment count, etc) are all contained in a custom function called ‘othergoodness’ – which we can ignore for now. Add your ‘Like’ button code within the tag labeled ‘postmetadata’ and immediately after all other functions are called (you can change placement later). It should look something like this:

<p class="postmetadata">
  <?php othergoodness(); ?>
  <fb:like href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" layout="standard"
     show_faces="false" width="450" action="like" colorscheme"dark"
     style="padding-top:10px;"></fb:like>
</p>
Note there are a few extra parameters for this example, just trying to show a little more detail and how you can control some display elements.

Our link, defined by the href attribute, utilizes the permanent link for that particular post. So on a page of 3 posts, each post has unique meta data and a unique link associated with it, we are piggy-backing on that predefined info by calling the_permalink() function for our link.
You’ll also want to add the like button to your single-post and page templates. You can use the same code snippet from your main index template on both of those pages. I recommend you place the code near your comments-template declaration. If you have comments turned off within WordPress, still add your like button near where the comments would be. In our example, the single post page, typically found at /wp-content/themes/[themename]/single.php becomes:

<fb:like href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" layout="standard"
     show_faces="false" width="450" action="like" colorscheme"dark"
     style="padding-top:10px;"></fb:like>
     <?php comments_template(); ?>
Adding the button to a page will work the same way. Find your page template and drop the same code. Page template is typically at /wp-content/themes/[themename]/page.php – and you can place it just before the comments template again. I add it after any admin-specific functionality that’d be relevant to post content to keep interaction elements (likes, comments, etc) separate when visually editing the front-end of the site.

<?php edit_post_link('Edit this entry.','<p>','</p>'); ?>
<fb:like href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" layout="standard"
     show_faces="false" width="450" action="like" colorscheme"dark"
     style="padding-top:10px;"></fb:like>
     <?php comments_template(); ?>
And that’s pretty much it, now the Facebook ‘Like’ button will be on all of your relevant pages and posts. The ‘fb:like’ tag works like any other ‘a’ tag where you can add it to just about anything.
The key to everything with the like button is the URL. What we learned here was how to just go in, drop some open graph and FBML code to dynamically pull the URL per-post or per-page so you don’t have to worry about it. On static sites, naturally you’ll have to add the button to every page with the appropriate URL. There are other methods to add meta data and social interaction to pages and posts, but we can cover that at a later date.
Due to goofy glitches, I cannot add the code within this post (hence the images) I have, however, put together each snippet into a text file, which you can grab here. Use the code at your own risk, etc – feel free to post comments or questions here or in the forums if you get stuck.