How to Strengthen Your Business’s Social Media Platform

So how does a small business deal with their social media platform? You ventured online and tried out a few. You stuck with two: Facebook and Twitter. What do you do now?

It's truly the "Wild West of social media," and while many businesses have blogs, use Twitter to post newsy articles or to announce a play by play of their teleseminars, and have profiles and pages on Facebook (with discussion related to a recent companywide conference call), unfortunately, they're making a lot of mistakes.

Before you shrug off social media as something your business doesn't need to keep up with, think about how your business is perceived in the Web 2.0 world and how it will affect your reputation and your ability to connect with customers, associates, and potential customers. Will potential clients be impressed by a business owner who barely blogs, rarely posts to Twitter, or refuses to really use Facebook? Do you know how much you can do with Facebook for your business? Read on. It does depends on who you are attempting to reach, but if you are going to utilize social media and really make it work, your business needs to translate to the Internet very well. More than likely, your business does look better online.  All nice and shiny. How do you keep it that way?

Here's a few tips to enlarge your presence in the social media frenzy online (more particularly, Facebook and Twitter).

1. Bare bones won't fly. If you are on Facebook with little more than your name, business name, and location, people just won't care. Social media is a way to interact with others online. Add a picture of you, your team, or your company's logo, add web site urls, link your Facebook page to your blog, or start a group for your employees or clients and initiate conversations in that group. You can create a business network (a la Acme Consulting) and within your network, you can update everyone on a company conference call, or for some silly fun, you can challenge your employees to a game of PackRat (seriously, the hottest Facebook game out there).

2. Don't bore your Twitter feed to tears. Post interesting urls on news, gossip, or articles that will help your employees or clients (do they want to read about oil consumption or new cell phone gadgets?) Make sure your content fits. Announce new products or services on Twitter, or publicize a teleseminar. Don't just say how the weather looks outside, use your status to get people interested in your business.

3. Don't be afraid to start the conversation. Accept and invite friends from all over and update often, either using the status updater or by imbedding a note into your profile. Ask questions to stimulate discussion, for instance, "What was the worst experience you've ever had on a conference call?" The new comment feature on everything in the Facebook profile allows conversations that were once confined to specific sections.

4. Twitter is even easier to use to start chatting. Try following leaders and innovators in your industry and in other industries. Respond to their tweets with your own comments (@JSmith Did you see this article? and then link to the article). That will get more people coming to your Twitter feed to find out information you have that might be useful to them.

5. Above all, give new content and often. The number one mistake businesses make with social media is thinking that a static web page or Facebook profile or Twitter feed will do the trick. If you last posted six months (even three months) ago, it's time to fire up your social media engine. Go to it!

The Facebook and Twitter Usage at Work Debate Continues

Facebook | Twitter

Facebook and Twitter's impact on your job and your ability to keep it is back in the spotlight. Eweek.com reports on the ongoing argument about allowing it at work.
"Gartner analysts Anthony Bradley and Nikos Drakos say corporations should not ban social applications such as Twitter or social networks such as Facebook and MySpace in the enterprise.

"Their arguments come after banks such as Credit Suisse Group have stopped their employees from using such tools.

"Web collaboration tools are software applications that help users connect with each other to work on projects or to share information. They are key ways for users to leverage the Internet in the enterprise, allowing users to e-mail, send instant messages, set up Web conferences or create shared wiki sites.

"Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Lotus Connections are examples of these tools tailored for the enterprise. But with 90 million-plus users leveraging Facebook, businesses are increasingly looking at the social network as a business networking tool, the way professionals leverage LinkedIn.

"Partly because of this utility in the workplace, Bradley argued that organizations should not shun Web participation for fear of bad behavior.

"Instead, they should create a trust model and policies that dictate fair use of Facebook and its cousins, as well as microblogging tools such as Twitter and Plurk. This trust model would include a definition of community and its characteristics, the likelihood of positive and negative behaviors, and a framework for guiding behaviors."

The Tri-CityHerald.com talks about how a Facebook profile can either land you the job or land you in hot water.

"Want a job?

"Forget about getting together all the usual stuff. You know, that booooring list of education, references, experience, previous jobs, blah, blah, blah ....

"First, you better take a hard look at your Facebook profile.

"Scour it for ‘inappropriate' content, suggests new research published by Katherine Karl of Marshall University and Joy Peluchette of the University of Southern Indiana.

"And what exactly might that content be? Well, this won't surprise folks who are 40 or more, but it must be a revelation to many twentysomethings. Otherwise, they probably wouldn't post it for millions to see.

"Among the ‘inappropriate' materials for your Facebook page are comments about sexual activity, alcohol abuse, drug use, profanity and negative attitudes about work.

"That's according to Megan Childs, a marketing communications coordinator for IGI Global in Hershey, Pa.

"The researchers studied 148 graduate students taking human resources and organizational behavior courses. The students played the role of hiring manager and were provided access to five job applicants' Facebook profiles."

I say, let Facebook help hiring managers and for those of us who use Facebook as a professional tool, why not let us network and socialize? What do you think?

Communication 101

We all communicate when we are around another human being, even if no one is saying anything. Body language can speak volumes. Even the fact that a person is at a place at a particular time can say it all. What isn't intrinsically clear to a lot of people is that we don't always communicate when we speak, or at least don't communicate well. Often and most especially in arguments, people are thinking they are speaking clearly, but the other person just won't get it… or won't shut up. Obviously there is no communication happening, but there are things you can do to make it happen.

Sarah Fenson in Inc.com wrote about several tips you can do to improve your communication. One is to keep your emotions out of the conversation. Often you simply cannot hear what the other person is saying simply for your frustration with the situation, or the indignity that you feel. Another tip is to acknowledge we have personal filters that sometimes make us hear what we want to hear. Asking for clarification, or repeating back the high points are good ways to bypass the filter. Two other great tips are to look for common ground with the other person and maintain a positive outlook. Both of which will help you go far to overcome miscommunications.

Some specific tips for good communication through speaking come from Bert Webb's blog, Open Loops. There are two that especially stand out. The first, making eye contact will not only let the other person know you are paying attention, but it will also pin their attention to what you are saying. The second tip is to make sure your facial expressions, body language, and words all deliver the same message. If you are smiling while delivering bad news, the mixed message will ensure mixed-up communications.

Taming the Business Paper Tiger

So, a business like this creates paperwork: purchase orders, receipts, pay stubs, shipping invoices, shipping bills. I hate it all. There, I said it and I'm not sorry. Some of the time, filing these papers is habitual. Some receipts go in that file and the remaining receipts go in the other file and the rest are recycled or shredded. I wish I had that kind of organization all the time. If I had my way I'd just shred it all, but my accountant would surely have something to say about that, so I will digress.

As I tackle an office reorganization (every time a product launches, I go into organizational mode), I wanted a few tips on cutting down on paper piles. I found two ideas that really worked for me. See what you think!

Take pictures (or scans) of important documents and/or business receipts on your digital camera and then download the picture into a folder, say August 2008 (all those files get backed up on a nightly basis, right?). Put them on an online backup system or an external hard drive. That's a pretty good idea, actually. You've got the receipt and you can print it if you need it. You can then shred the paper copy. Less paper! The rule of thumb is to keep all business receipts for 7 years and each year, throw out the earliest year. It will be much easier to delete a year's folder from a backup drive than to dig through a storage room to find the 2001 box next year, I say.

If you don't already, you should have an in-house folder (my title for inbox), a read and learn folder, a GTD folder, and a toolkit folder (you can name your folders what you like, I change mine every six months or so to zany names that inspire me).

  1. The in-house folder should be reviewed at least once every 24 hours and items culled from it for immediate action or that go immediately (do not pass go and collect 200 dollars) to the read and learn file or the GTD folder.
  2. The read and learn folder is material to read at a later time. There is so much of this, especially nowadays, so when it gets too full for me, I either throw it out or hand it over to the GTD file. Don't let yourself be buried by required reading that wasn't that important anyway (if it is important, put it in the Toolkit file or the GTD file).
  3. The GTD (from David Allen's Getting Things Done system) folder (actually it's a couple of banker boxes high right now) is material that you need, but want organized. I use alphabetical filing: every folder has a label and is filed alphabetically (the label maker refill companies love me!) This includes receipts, invoices, shipping bills, and so on that can just go away (I love it!). I can find it again if you need it, but it doesn't clutter up my desk.
  4. The toolkit folder should hold the items you need every single day: phone numbers, your rate sheet, your schedule, and a checklist for clients, that sort of thing. I call it a toolkit, because it is. I can't live without it. This includes my paper organizer, a few tip sheets for a couple of clients, and a weekly to-do list that really never changes. Keeps me sane!

My rule of thumb: if it isn't in one of those four categories, it's going to get shredded. August is my filing month (and not a moment too soon) and these guidelines do work. It's fun too, once you get started.

Happy paper taming!

Take Your Time When Building a Team

The art of team building never ceases to amaze and perplex me. A friend recently went on a team-building exercise over a weekend and came away challenged, yet changed. She and a dozen others hiked into a remote campground with supplies on their backs and underwent extreme physical fitness regimens—twenty pushups for every minute they were late for chow and long hikes uphill—which to me doesn't resemble "camping" in the least. She claims it worked in order to prepare them for their latest venture.

"We learned to trust each other; something that takes time."

And I suppose there's nothing like hours trudging through wilderness to really get to know fellow members of your team. However, her report got me onto the Internet looking again for stories pertaining to team building in business. I found a few items that were interesting and that backed up my friend's claims.

Businessweekly.co.uk writes about building a quality management team in the early stages of your business.

"Speaking to an international audience at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning's Ignite programme in Cambridge, the key message from David Boorman, Technology Business Director of Bailey Fisher ~ Executive Search was 'Don't underestimate the time and effort involved in building your team.'"

Lesson number one: be patient and realize the time it takes to build key relationships. My camping friend can vouch for this.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes about the team-building process, utilizing outside coaches to marinate a management team, not to whip one up as quickly as possible.

"A strong team makes an impact on everyone around it. Think about the Atlanta Braves' 'worst to first' season in 1991. Having the hometown team in the World Series was electrifying for Atlanta. When the 'miracle,' U.S. ice hockey team took the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, the entire nation celebrated."

"What would it mean to have a team like that at work? OK, there are no gold medals for IT-system implementation, and even top sales teams rarely get ticker-tape parades, but a high-performing work team is definitely a win in today's business environment. . . ."

"In 2004-05, the Center for Creative Leadership surveyed 118 executives and middle managers to compile 'The State of Teams' report. It found that 95 percent of respondents participated on more than one work team; that 91 percent thought teams were central to the organization's success; and that 80 percent thought leaders needed help building strong teams and keeping teams on track toward exceeding expectations."

"The help often comes from outside coaches, who can bring new insights and skills to the table."

"'Creating a strong team is a process, not a one-time event,' said Martha Carnahan, president of Atlanta-based mc3 strategies and a certified business and life coach. . . ."

I think I hear an echo: Team-building requires large amounts of concentrated time; this is not something you can rush.

Writing Better Will Help You Keep Your Job

It's really true. Your ability to communicate shows up in more ways than just getting what you ordered at a restaurant the first time. It could save your career. I now sound like Penelope Trunk and a post from her blog about how to write to improve your job performance.

Trunk states that "Almost one-third of workers do not meet the writing requirements of their positions, according to a survey by the College Board's National Commission on Writing."

Trunk's post is from 2004 (yeah, I know, a golden oldie) but I think it fits the point. Do you really know how to write and could you do it if your career (not just your job) depended on it?

Some of Trunk's pointers (I'm including the every item on her list, because they are just so good):

1. Write lists.
People love reading lists. . . . If you can't list your ideas then you aren't organized enough to send them to someone else.

2. Think on your own time.
Most of us think while we write. . . . Find your main point in each paragraph and delete everything else.

3. Keep paragraphs short.
Your idea gets lost in a paragraph that's more than four or five lines. Two lines is the best length if you really need your reader to digest each word.

4. Write like you talk.
Each of us has the gift of rhythm when it comes to sentences, which includes a natural economy of language. But you must practice writing in order to transfer your verbal gifts to the page. . . .

5. Delete.
When you're finished, you're not finished: cut 10% of the words. . . . Luckily, you don't have to write for publication, so you can celebrate if you cut more than 10%. . . .

6. Avoid adjectives and adverbs.
The fastest way to a point is to let the facts speak for themselves. Adjectives and adverbs are your interpretation of the facts. If you present the right facts, you won't need to throw in your interpretation. . . .

I don't have anything to add to this list, which is not surprising. It's a good list! One way to learn to write like you talk is to get a tape recorder (I've done this recently). Yes, your coworkers will think you've lost it, but it works! Talk away into the mic, and let it all out, jumbled and raw and just how you thought it originally. You can then upload the audio to your computer and transcribe into a Word document. I wouldn't recommend this for every single email to your boss, but for a large report when you just need to get something on the page, why not? It beats the blank page blues and as usual, I realize I have a lot more to say than I can ever use in my written report.

 

Yapping Again About Productivity

I'm talking productivity yet again. It might be because I tested out as Generation Y (in reality, I'm Generation X) a couple of months ago, but I'm fascinated with productivity information and various ways that companies are trying to improve workflow and process and profit. How do they do it? Measuring productivity, of course!

In the town of Redding, Connecticut, city workers moved to a four-day workweek, working Monday through Thursday, and not working on Friday. The Acorn-Online.com reports on the early results.

"It has been only a little over a week since the town went to a four-day workweek, closing offices on Fridays, but an increase in productivity is already being noticed.
"'I've received positive feedback from employees,' said First Selectman Natalie Ketcham. 'Most of us field telephone calls from residents. With the longer workday, we are able to finish other work that may have been put aside when responding to those calls.'"

Smartbrief.com has a nice round-up of stories related to productivity, but the main point is that there are many options out there and it can't hurt to try a few and see how your employees do.

"If you want employees to work nights and weekends to complete a project, you've got to give something in return. Some companies find that something can be flexibility in employees' schedules, which not only allows workers to pursue outside interests, but also benefits the company.

"Flexible schedules can be completely open-ended -- as long as the work gets done -- or can be scheduled around a graduate student's school schedule, pro bono work or even a second job.

"Companies find that flex time helps their employees become more productive and helps create a 'good workplace environment that begets good work.'"

Business24-7.com, based in the United Arab Emirates, talks about ergonomic issues as a factor in productivity.

"Two out of three employees suffer from work-related repetitive strain injury (RSI) and this costs companies a fortune in lost working hours, says a new report from the UK.

"RSI - widely linked to the use of computer keyboards - costs employers in Britain £300 million (Dh2.2 billion) annually in lost productivity and sick pay, according to a study by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. The condition accounted for an estimated 3.5m lost working days in 2006-07.

"The problem is also acute in the Middle East with the hot summer preventing staff from taking breaks from their desks. And the region is not as advanced as Europe at preventing the disabling condition."

So what ideas have you put into place to improve productivity? Post a comment and let me know!

A More Straightforward Approach to Productivity

I figured it was time to make the case for productivity in other types of business environments that do not have the tendency or desire to grant Facebook time, goof-off time, or even nap time. Many of these companies do business in a very competitive market and it's a daily race to get ahead and stay ahead.

For instance, Tom Siebel, CEO of Siebel Systems, doesn't play by society's rules nor does he think much about making work comfortable for his employees.

In a 2000 article for Fortune magazine, Siebel says, "'Running a business is a fundamentally rational process,' Siebel says squarely. 'We unemotionally put things on the table, look each other straight in the eye, and state the facts.' The article also reports that "[I]f employees are offended by this perfunctory management style, then they're probably not right for Siebel Systems. Employees who perform are rewarded; those who don't are disposed of. Nearly everyone at Siebel is given a rank within each department, and every six months Tom Siebel lops off the bottom 5%. Siebel is intense, competitive, and driven[.]"

Think it a little extreme? If so, you're probably better off working in an adaptive management culture, one that encourages performance, but doesn't demand it. Remember, there is no right or wrong here. The adaptive culture may allow more free time, self-management, and self-expression, but Siebel's achievement culture (a phrase used in business management textbooks) may be a good fit for a high achievers who seek to make a lot of progress in a short amount of time. And it seems to work for Siebel and his company.

Fortune reports that "Siebel Systems is the only U.S. enterprise-software company to accelerate past $1 billion in revenues without running off the rails. Oracle, Informix, PeopleSoft, Sybase, and Baan have all had to clean up wreckage at some point. Oracle had an accounting scandal in 1993, which resulted in a $100,000 fine by the Securities and Exchange Commission and shareholder suits that cost Oracle $24 million to settle. Informix, too, was reprimanded for accounting shenanigans. PeopleSoft management fell into disarray. Siebel, meanwhile, is growing by leaps and bounds--analysts expect the company to do $1.6 billion in sales this year [in 2000] and plans to double its work force within the next 12 months."

In 2008, Oracle (who serendipitously bought Siebel Systems in 2006) has gone the way of most IT companies--"four consecutive quarters where its revenue and profit figures are sharply down on the same period a year before" and this reflects not on a certain management style, but on the state of IT as an industry.

Many called Siebel a control freak and many more chose not to take a job at Siebel Systems back in the years 2000 through 2006 just because of this achievement culture, but the lesson here is that there is no "one" way to approach business culture. And it is only up to you to choose which way you go, especially if your business struggles with productivity. Just don't fret if early efforts have not paid off. The market is tough on everyone these days, even those folks who still aren't on Facebook and never get naps at work.

Xobni improves your Outlook Inbox Productivity

xobni

In an increasingly data-oriented world, sifting through mounds and mounds of information quickly becomes more and more important.  Look at tools like Google Desktop and the Microsoft Search built into Windows Vista.  They are all about finding information quickly and efficiently.

It is with this goal in mind that Xobni developed their software.  Being able to click on an e-mail and see everything about that contact is an extremely valuable tool.  Automatically, Xobni has extracted the phone number from my contact’s signature, listed everyone else in my network that this contact has communicated with, as well as putting the files and conversations with this contact at my fingertips.  But Xobni goes further than that by actually quantizing the data and informing me just how important this contact is to me (in a strictly e-mail sense of the word – my wife won’t be happy to find out that she’s #5).  Having this data handy helps to better prioritize and respond to "critical" items in your inbox more efficiently.  My day is freed up from reading UPS shipping notices and standard report reminders and I can focus on doing my work, with the knowledge that Xobni is watching my inbox for one of my top e-mailers for me.  If one of my contacts has multiple e-mail addresses, Xobni automatically groups them together and shows me all communications with this person, not just from the e-mail address they sent me e-mail from.

It is an Outlook search engine on steroids, allowing a much quicker path to recent e-mail to and from each contact.  I would highly recommend it to people like me that have 8 GB mailboxes and desperately need to bring some order to their lives.

Can You Understand What I’m Saying?

Clear Communications

In the same vein as our previous post on business communications, "Can You Hear What I'm Saying?," a business communication problem may crop up if clients can't understand what you're trying to say. All the personal and two-way conversations in the world won't help if you are not making yourself clear. A few business-friendly tips to keeping it clear.

1. Define terms. If your clients won't know the acronyms in your business, don't keep throwing them around without explanation. If you're a stock broker, and your new wealthy investor does not know what an ETF is--exchange-traded fund--how will you convince her to let you put her money into them? Your marketing communications and/or documents given to clients need to have the definitions spelled out as if no one has a clue. Yes, even easy ones, like the CDC or FDA. When in doubt, spell it out.

2. Don't recite a list of features. If you're company that has been in business for 5 years, and can provide 20 different services, listing all that as the main reason to choose your business may cause your customer's eyelids to glaze over. How about explaining how your services will ensure that they never have to worry about their heating and air conditioning service again? How about promising that the years of experience guarantees that the service personnel will "arrive on time or the service call is free"? (Yes, I'm dreaming. But wouldn't that be nice!) Make sure your best attributes are there, not for you to look and feel good, but so that your client looks and feels good. See the difference?

3. The shorter, the better. Some of the best marketing I've seen is short and sweet. A quick tag line summing up just what the client is looking for. A handyman service promises that your leaking gutter can be fixed in an hour while you're at work. A tanning salon wants to help us all relax. Find out what your client wants and then keep it short.

Business communications can be daunting to business owners. Calm down, it's not rocket science. You can outsource it to freelance marketing writers/copywriters/corporate writers, depending on what they call themselves. Which one to choose? It's up to you and your needs. If you have marketing collateral to rework or a web site to enlarge, any of the above freelance service providers will work. They will generally have an established web site showcasing their brilliant writing skills and will have impressive references. You'll want to ask for samples and make sure you get some rewrites included in the hefty fee. Shop around and don't settle. Make sure you find the best fit for you.

Or you can do it yourself. If that seems especially scary, remember the more you communicate and the more you try to do it clearly, the better you'll be.