Social Media Marketing -
How To Build An Online Presence

by Anna Smith

Getting the word out about your business can easily be a full-time job. Here's how you can build a solid online presence via social media without spending every waking moment at your computer - and without spending a lot of money.

How To Be Interesting All The Time

Up-to-date content rules the internet. ESPN.com would not have many visitors if game scores were updated just once a week.

We live in a world where information travels at the speed of light and people crave to be the first ones to know. "The guy” (@ReallyVirtual) who unwittingly tweeted the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound now has over 90,000 followers, compared to 1,500 followers before his live coverage began.

If you want to join the online conversation and create an influential online presence, you should have something to say. No one wants to be ‘socially involved’ with a business that only broadcasts its own sales pitches or that sends a tweet once a day: "Read my new blog post.”

To find lots of fresh new content and update your social media profiles on a daily basis, try Google Reader.

Google reader constantly scours the web for new information. Once you have customized it, you will always have access to the latest and greatest news in your industry or niche.



Google Reader Tips

If you are setting up Google Reader for the first time, start by creating different folders that will make sense for your business. You can create folders for different topics, for example, business, marketing, technology, and leadership. You can also create folders for different types of media like pictures (cartoons), videos and podcasts. You can even create folders to monitor Google alerts, comment streams, Facebook or Twitter updates.

Customers can't buy from you if they don't know you exist. There are millions of websites on the World Wide Web. You can help potential buyers find yours by building and maintaining a reputable online presence.

So how can you, the work-from-home entrepreneur or small business owner, attract an audience without spending a fortune on SEO or being glued to your computer 24/7? My suggestion: Be interesting, be everywhere, stand out, and let the computer do the work. The following tricks do not involve hiring a social media manager, or spending more than $10 per month.

Then you have to feed your reader, literally. This can be time consuming, but you'll only have to do it once. Add the rss feeds of your favorite blogs, news sites, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, etc. to your Google Reader. You can do this manually or add the Subscribe Button to your toolbar (that will save you a few steps and time in the long run). I also suggest you create two or three Google Alerts and have them delivered to your Google Reader. Google Alerts notify you every time you or your business is mentioned online or an article is published that is relevant to your niche.

Once you get into the habit of scanning these headlines on a regular basis, you will be able to process hundreds of articles in just a few minutes.

How To Be Everywhere

David Everett-Carlson, friend and author of the Wild Wild East Dailies, taught me the importance of syndication. Why only be active in one network if you can update your statuses in fifteen networks simultaneously?

Say you have discovered a great link and crafted a short message:

20 creative guerilla marketing campaigns http://manag.rs/coolmktg via execupundit.com - love it

(title - link - credit - comment)

This update could be followed by an update that links to your latest blog post about marketing tips, for example.

How can you share these two messages with fifteen different networks at once (and schedule them to be sent at different times)? Try the social media dashboard HootSuite. I prefer HootSuite because it gives me the ability to schedule messages in bulk and ahead of time. When I post a message to HootSuite, it is, in theory, sent to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Ping.fm. Ping.fm sends it to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Delicious, identi.ca, Google Buzz and more.

Once you have setup your syndication network, you can broadcast your messages to different audiences in the blink of an eye.

Syndication Tips

Try not to send the same link to 15 different networks at the same time. Why would someone want to follow you on Twitter if your Facebook and Twitter updates were the exactly the same? Mix it up a bit. You should have separate categories for status updates (140 characters or less) and micro blog posts (short description of your online findings or opinions/comments), and even distinguish between networks. For example, My LinkedIn updates tend to be more conservative than my Facebook updates. You can divide your Ping.fm networks into different post groups. This allows you to customize your messages or split them up to be released on different days at different times.

For advanced users: http://ifttt.com (currently in beta version, it’s free, but participation is by invitation only) allows you to create if/then triggers. For example, every time a new entry is posted to your WordPress blog, an email with that content is sent to Posterous or Amplify (change your email channel settings accordingly). You can also download a WordPress autopost plugin to reach networks like StumbleUpon and Digg.

In short: there is a way to autopost from HootSuite to just about any social network you can think of.

How To Stand Out

Online networks like Twitter only allow users to post 140 characters, so the shorter the links are, the better. Shorter links are also useful in other social networks as they will not take up several lines of space. Link shortening services can transform long links into short ones. Some popular link shorteners include bit.ly, goo.gl, tiny.cc, and ow.ly.

Each time you shorten a link with, for example, goo.gl, it will look like this: http://goo.gl/bzSPM

But when the New York Times shares a link on Twitter, it begins with http://nyti.ms. Looks more professional, doesn’t it? Looks like the New York Times is a 'real' brand.

If you sold shoes, wouldn’t it be enticing if all your links started with http://sho.es? Or http://burri.to if you sold... burritos?

You can create a customized short link for your business with bit.ly pro at http://bitly.com/pro (thanks for the tip, @socialworkplace).

The bit.ly service is free, but you have to buy your new domain. I bought http://manag.rs for just under $30 (good for 1 year). To help you find a suitable short domain, go to http://domai.nr and type in the name of your business or product you sell to generate ideas. Once you know the domain you want to buy, don’t forget to shop around.

How To Be Online When You Are Not

As I mentioned earlier, I use HootSuite because it allows me to schedule updates in bulk and in advance. This is very convenient. I can be sitting in my paddle boat on a nearby lake while my Twitter account tweets and my Tumblr blog publishes micro blogs. It is even more convenient to schedule messages in bulk (via Excel spreadsheet). HootSuite offers the option to use bulk scheduling for $5.99 a month - get a HootSuite account here.

You can also use HootSuite's bulk scheduler to send recurring messages. You cannot schedule duplicate messages in advance, but you can add a hash tag or change the wording to make the message different each time.

HootSuite Bulk Scheduling Tips

When I see a good story in Google reader, I open it in a new tab and click on the bit.ly bookmarklet in my toolbar (download at http://bit.ly/pages/sidebar). The sidebar automatically copies the title of what I want to share and shortens the link using my custom domain manag.rs. You can copy and paste the title and link into HootSuite directly or, if you are using the bulk scheduler, into an Excel spreadsheet. I prefer the latter because the Excel spreadsheet is less distracting and I can work a lot faster. Add a comment or write a short story about the news item you are sharing – and schedule it to be broadcast whenever and wherever you like. You can conveniently view your pending messages with HootSuite's new Publisher.

Collecting messages in Excel and then uploading them to HootSuite (you can submit 50 at one time) is less distracting for me and allows me to work faster. If you are not familiar with Excel, uploading your data file to HootSuite can be a little bit tricky because HootSuite only accepts perfectly formatted .csv (comma-separated values) files. Once you get the hang of it though, it’s really easy.

.CSV File Tips

If you are doing this for the first time, create an excel file with just one or two entries that looks like this (using your custom bit.ly short domain):

The first column has to be formatted according to DD/MM/YYYY HH:MM (where HH:MM is expressed in military time). Leave the ‘url’ field blank because you are using your custom short domain and include it as part of the message; otherwise it would change to ow.ly or ht.ly.

Save it as a .csv file on your desktop. Right click it and open it with Notepad (or other text editor) to make sure it is displayed exactly like this:

30/06/2011 08:50,"The Proper Use of Smiley Faces in Business Correspondence http://manag.rs/kB7UGX",

If it is, upload it to a network in HootSuite, and you are done. Check the pending messages for strange characters and make sure none of them accidentally got cut off at the end.

If it isn't displayed in that exact format, here are some troubleshooting tips:

If your dates and times lose a zero (7/6/2011 instead of 07/06/2011), check if your first column is formatted correctly (I actually had to custom format my first column to MM/DD/YYYY HH:MM so that it would display as DD/MM/YYYY HH:MM – funny how that goes) or use the find and replace function in Notepad (shortcut ctrl + h) to make the necessary changes.

Remember that time is recorded in military time and messages have to be scheduled in five minute increments.

If your fields are separated by a semicolon when you open your list in a text editor, check your Windows format settings (control panel >> regional and language options).

If you don’t have ‘the right amount of quotation marks’, use the find and replace function in notepad to make necessary changes. If there are no quotations marks around the message, you can go back to your Excel file and insert a column in front of the message column with the word front in it, and type the word end in the column after the message. Save the file, open it in a text editor, and find and replace front, (frontCOMMA) with " (quote) and ,end (COMMAend) with ", (quoteCOMMA).

Set your message column width to 121 so you know ‘how long’ 140 characters are.

Create date and time templates so you can easily switch up the posting times and intervals for different networks. I use a different field for each day, month, year, hour, minute that I can easily change and use the concatenate function to create the final column. When you copy the dates and times that were created with the concatenate function, remember to use a paste special when pasting the data into your main spreadsheet and select ‘values’ only.

Use the main spreadsheet to collect your messages, then copy and paste them to different files, for example named Twitter, LinkedIn, and general status updates, so you can easily change and customize the messages before uploading them.

Let The Social Web Work For You

Social media is about having fun. Instead of feeling pressured to 'be social', you can now use the majority of your online time to strike up friendly conversations, leave comments or otherwise engage with online friends. Social media should not be stressful and does not have to take up a lot of your time.

Once your system is set up and you get used to routinely checking your Google Reader and scheduling messages via HootSuite, you can maintain a high quality, consistent online presence without hiring someone and by investing little time each week.

Your social media profiles will be exciting and feature new content every hour (or however often you want them to).

If you can master to share just the right mix of information, marketing messages, originality and entertainment, you can create a strong, loyal and unique following.

Then it’s up to you to convert your online presence into dollar bills. Good luck!

Anna Smith
What Do You Want From Them, Inc.
www.WhatDoYouWantFromThem.com- the informal network for managers
Twitter.com/wdywft

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