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Tax Season Wrap Up: Beware What You Share

Social Sonar - Wednesday, April 17, 2013

As if running a small business weren't hard enough already, the IRS is focusing in on small-business owners this year. What could that potentially mean for you? While the chances of getting audited are pretty low, less than 1 percent, no one is completely exempt. Any suspicious activity on your tax returns could mean an increased risk for audit. If you've got unusually large deductions in your recently filed taxes, for example, you may already be raising a big red flag for the IRS.

So what does any of this have to do with social media? Well, if you've written off certain expenses throughout the fiscal year, you want to make sure that the story told by published activity on your social networks corroborates it. If you're the kind of user who regularly checks in or updates your status, you've already created a digital trail. Does this match up with information you've stated on tax return? An audit could reveal discrepancies.

Although it's not totally clear what kind of digital information the IRS could potentially use against you when it it comes to being audited, it's better to be safe about what you share. Some possible avenues for keeping yourself protected could include limiting the dedicated users from your business you allow to share information through your social networks. It's also a good idea to draw up guidelines or contracts stipulating what people should and shouldn't share through company channels.

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As bigger companies expand to social media outlets to connect with potential investors, the role that sharing so called “material information” online could have is undergoing constant revision. For instance, Netflix recently used Facebook as a channel to share information about viewership. It's a pioneering move that opens the doors for other businesses to do the same.

But just as sharing information about your travels and expenses in an open forum could come back to haunt you around tax time, you should also be wary about sharing material information. Sure, it could be a terrific way to attract people interested in having a stake in your business. On the other hand, you need to assure that it's accurate, up-to-date and that it doesn't misrepresent facts about your business.

It seems that the takeaway lesson here is that while increased transparency is an in incredibly beneficial part of being on social media, it's always important to identify sensitive company information that could cause more harm than good.

What’s the Deal with Online Deals?

Social Sonar - Wednesday, April 10, 2013

We love a good deal. There's something awesome about getting that thing you desperately need or desire for a few bucks off. Special deals helps us feel like we're in the loop, and somehow ahead of the rest of the pack. They also help us feel rewarded for being loyal customers. But from your perspective, deals can be risky business. Social media is a great way to promote savings, but are you using the intersection between deals and social media to the best of your advantage?

Don't be a Coupon Machine

It's tempting to use social media as the primary way to advertise coupons, sales and deals. The danger here lies in becoming a coupon catalogue. Don't let special offers take over in such way that all your other content falls by the wayside. You need time and space to develop other aspects of your brand, so don't let the coupon clutter build too much.

Do Reward Loyal Followers

If you're trying to engage with your most loyal customers, deals and savings are a great way to reward their excitement and passion for your product. You can generate excitement online with competitions, teasing special deals along the way. It's also not a bad way to repair damage from bad customer experiences.

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Don't Use it as Your Only Strategy For Growth

As this study from Rhythm Insights shows, most social media users (close to 60%) follow brands to show their loyalty or support. Creating original content that shows off who you are as a brand is much more vital to a sound social media strategy, so make sure that those efforts take priority over publicizing deals.

Do Make Stipulations

For any deal you're offering, always make stipulations. Plan ahead and set deadlines for deals to expire. Brainstorm with staff members to make sure there aren't any gaping loopholes in your plan that would allow someone to run off with more than you can afford to give away. Make sure you communicate all the fine print to your followers before they take you up on any special deals. You can avoid awkward confrontations and negative customer experiences that way.

With the knowledge that gaining and retaining followers doesn't rely solely on the discounts you offer, you can relax a little and refocus your energies elsewhere. Be as specific as you can with what you're offering, so that your next coupon or sales discount isn't a deal breaker for your most valued customers. Finally, have fun! Create contests, roll out deals with teases that build excitement and document people enjoying your special offers so that you have a reminder of what makes it all worth it.

Improvise Your Way to Social Media Success

Social Sonar - Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Yes, there's a lot of planning when it comes to setting up a successful social media strategy, but the ability to improvise is just as important. If you're familiar with improvisational comedy, sometimes called "improv," you know that coming up with great material on spot is easier said than done. Still, there are some good lessons to be gleaned from the world of improv that can make your strategy that much stronger.

"Yes, and..."

One of the first rules you learn in improv is to accept the reality your scene partners are trying to make and build on it (aptly summed up as the "Yes, and..." rule). Imagine an actor walking into a scene with the line “This spaceship is about to crash!” You can either accept that first line as a fact and start building a story together, or you can shoot it down with “What do you mean? We're at the mall.” The latter response is a scene killer, with two conflicting intentions putting the nail in the coffin before your scene gets off the ground.

The same can be said about your social media strategy. By reacting positively to the direction your followers start you off in, you can start building a longer, stronger narrative together. Once you've said “yes,” don't forget to build on their original ideas with your own contributions so that followers are incentivized to keep engaging with you.

Support your partners

While some parts of a scene about you, they're just as much about the dynamic you're a part of. The same is true about your presence through social media. If you're only concerned with how many people follow what you publish, you're missing the other side of the equation. Support your online community by the following individual users, chiming in on what they have to say and supporting the endeavors that they're trying to promote.

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Tell stories

A classic pitfall of comedic improv is to feel the need to rattle off a bunch of jokes that never add up to anything. In the same way, you don't want the messages you publish to exist in a vacuum. Remember that everything you put out there is part of a multi-faceted, ongoing narrative. It's good to concentrate on details, but you should never lose focus when it comes the the driving narrative you're trying to share.

Be spontaneous, flexible

Having a game plan is incredibly important, but don't be so dogmatic about sticking to your strategy. You could risk coming off as inflexible, standoffish and even stubborn. Instead, open yourself to the possibility that once you get in the game, things are bound to change. By being receptive to an ever-changing online environment, you can guarantee that you'll be a dynamic player, ready to explore new and exciting directions in your story building.

Listen

Finally, make sure your ears are always open to what your scene partners have to say. They might be feeding you important clues about where they'd like to take the narrative. When you listen carefully, the stories you tell in any medium will become more memorable, detailed and enriching. People will also feel that you're present, accessible and transparent.

A strategy doesn't always have to be a strict blueprint you never stray from. Be open to the possibilites that are happening around you and you'll be ready to thrive in the world of social media, where dynamic storytelling is the key to success.

3 Ways to Put People Front and Center

Social Sonar - Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Have you fallen into the trap of being purely transactional with your tweets and posts? It's easy to find yourself in a rut where you only announce things like discounts, new products, operational hours or other superficial facts about your business. But followers want a little bit more than that, and you're not likely to keep their attention for very long if you don't indulge them.

People who subscribe to you via social media want information that they can't get from somewhere else. They want to feel connected to the people behind the brand, and feel like they're an active participant in the story of your business. Here are three ways you can put people first to make sure your social media strategy is personal.

Feature Customer Stories

Do you have a regular who has been coming into your store for years? Next time you see them, ask them to answer a few questions about themselves and use social media to feature their story. It's a great way to make customers feel valuable and shows that your business is a vital part of the community. You never know what you'll learn about your customers along the way, and everyone loves to have at least fifteen minutes of fame!

Use Pictures

Take pictures (or encourage open submissions) of your customers enjoying the things that make your brand great. For instance, you could create a contest where customers submit pictures of themselves with their favorite pint from your micro-brewery. Generating original content makes your storytelling through social media become more dynamic and unique. Just make sure you always get the permission from the people featured in the photographs!

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Provide Backstage Access

Your employees don't have to be anonymous. In the same way you feature customers, you can share stories about the employees that make up the heart of your business. Pulling back the curtain on your operations can be a little scary at first, but remember, you're the publisher. You control what information to share and what should stay internal to your organization. Followers can learn why your employees love working for you, which encourages brand loyalty. Customers also get to learn more about the staff that serves them, helping to build a great rapport that builds lasting relationships.

Think of your social media platforms less as a news ticker with a constant stream of facts and more as a dynamic tool for storytelling. Start with people and build your stories out from there. Use original and found images as well as text to provide eye-catching information and you're sure to have an online presence worthy of the people who are the beating heart of your business.

Find Your Funny, Find Your Followers

Social Sonar - Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Not everyone is born with a funny bone, but flexing your comedic muscles every once in a while on social media is a terrific way to build your brand, gain followers and keep customers engaged. Afraid that you don't have what it takes? You don't have to be the next coming of Johnny Carson to succeed. Feeling like humor is too risky of a strategy? Staying on the sidelines might mean missing out on some memorable moments and great connections with followers. Here are 5 great reasons why it's worth it to get rolling with the LOL'ing.

It Strengthens Your Identity

Humor adds a whole new dimension to your brand. People may be following you for things like discounts or deals, but they also want special access. Your humor reveals important things about your own worldview, which opens the door to finding the followers that really relate to your mission and outlook. Joking with someone also creates a sense of familiarity. There's a reason why opening with a joke is referred to as “breaking the ice.” It immediately dissolves tension and shows that you don't take yourself too seriously.

You Become More Memorable

Users are much more likely to dismiss interactions that are purely transactional. A great joke or comment can stay with a user for a long time. That hearty chuckle you elicit from someone while they're stuck in traffic might be the thing that secures your place on someone's Facebook or Twitter feed.

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It Makes Your Content More Dynamic

Some messaging has to be serious to get the message across, but if you never alter your tone, your messaging becomes an endless drone. Break up the monotony by introducing humor.

You Become More Relevant

Topical humor is great! It shows that you're connected to the zeitgeist and have something to say about what's happening. Adding your voice to an ongoing conversation is always a good idea when it comes to making your presence known on social media platforms. Using humor makes you stand out even more in a sea of ever-changing commentary.

It Turns Followers Into Evangelizers

The person you make laugh today is the person who will be singing your praises tomorrow. Jokes are inherently viral. Once you hear something hilarious, you immediately want to share it. It only takes one look at a popular meme to show you how one funny idea can catch on like wildfire. If you're looking for retweets and shares, make sure you're bringing the funny.

Your own personal brand of humor takes time to develop. Get to know your audience and find out what they think is funny. Test the waters with a few zingers before you pull out all the stops. Most of all, don't miss out on a great way to grow your business by being too cautious or overthinking things. If you do, you might find that the joke is ultimately on you!

Facebook’s New Facelift and What it Could Mean for Your Business

Social Sonar - Wednesday, March 06, 2013

By now, you've probably heard about the overhaul of Facebook's design. You may even be on the waiting list to try it out. Facebook has undergone major redesigns in the past, but this new wave of change signals a significantly different direction for the social media platform that could change the way users interact with it from here on out. Are you and your business ready for the changes headed your way?

As you may already know, a carefully crafted algorithm determines what's more likely to pop up on a user's feed. The more often users interact with you through Facebook, the more likely they are to see your content prominently featured in their feed. While the way that developing stories are prioritized in users' feeds isn't fundamentally changing, other updates could have an impact on your visibility.

The biggest and most obvious change is that images will be displayed in a much larger format. The new design is also consistent across various devices, which makes sense, since so many users are logging into Facebook from smartphones and tablets now. The move could be a shrewd attempt to recapture some of the younger demographic that has flocked to image-driven platforms like Instagram and Tumblr.

While ads have been a part of Facebook for quite some time now, you'll now have to compete with ‘super ads.' They'll be flashier, take up more space and have the potential to dominate attention if your own content is not up to snuff.

The new Facebook has been described as a personal newspaper, customized for users' personal tastes, so make sure that what you are putting out there is engaging, visually striking and valuable to your audience. The quality of content you create is paramount to gaining and retaining attention.

FB-like.pngWith such an emphasis on images, the new Facebook is more visually driven than ever. You want to ensure that images hold up in terms of quality, since they'll be much larger. Rich media like video will also be prioritized, so it's good to ensure variety and stay away from content that is solely text-based. Your cover photo will also act as your virtual calling card every time your business is “liked,” so it's important for it to be memorable and truly representative of your brand's identity.

Great interaction with customers will remain an extremely important aspect of using Facebook succesfully. It's more important than ever to connect with your loyal followers, since their interactions with you will spill over into their own friends' newsfeeds. The more you are engaged with people, the bigger role you'll play in their newsfeeds, so make sure you have the tools, time and manpower to answer questions and reach out to active users as much as you can.

As always, having a dedicated team developing and staying on top of your social media plan is crucial, especially when platforms change their look and function. You can trust us to stay on top of things and keep you one step ahead of new shifts so you don't get left behind!

3 Business Tools I Can’t Live Without

Social Sonar - Thursday, February 21, 2013

There are a number of tools I’m using these days to increase my productivity. I think other small business owners will benefit from them as well.

1. Google Apps for Business

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I have easy access to all my spreadsheets and documents no matter where I am. It’s ideal for sharing information if several employees are working with the same clients. I really enjoy the ability to limit who has access to the documents. It’s great for people who work in multiple locations throughout the day, including the office and later again at home.

2. Skype

Skype allows me to take calls from anywhere. I have our 1-800 number and Google Voice number redirected to my Skype phone so I never miss a call. I can have international phone calls for next to nothing. I record all my calls in case I ever need to reference them. I can also instant message my coworkers, which comes in handy if they encounter a roadblock and need an immediate answer to get working again.

3. Live Chat

My clients get answers so much faster by sending a chat than an email. Answering questions via live chat also reduces the number of inquiries waiting in my email inbox. It enables me to answer questions in real time so my clients feel valued; they’ve actually mentioned live chat as one of their favorite features, as well.

What are your favorite tools? Share them below!

9 Steps for a Successful Twitter Strategy

Social Sonar - Thursday, February 14, 2013
There’s no secret to Twitter success, just a few simple steps you should follow.

1. Create an account.

First, create a Twitter account and fill out all profile information. This will help other people find you and also get your Twitter profile ranked in search engines for relevant keywords.

2. Download TweetAdder.

Next download TweetAdder. At the time of this blog publication, a singl

e account is only $55, and it’s well worth the money. Other applications are free or cheaper, but they require a lot of manual upkeep. TweetAdder runs in the background while you work.

3. Set up your Auto Thank You.

Be sure to thank people for following and ask for their input. It is generally considered a faux pas to ask people to like your Facebook page as well, but you can direct people to your website for more information as long as it does not sound too sales-y.

4. Automatically Follow People Back.

There are two following mechanisms in TweetAdder: Follow and Follow Back. Both following mechanisms are set to stop when the ratio of following to followers reaches a certain point. The reason for this cap is to prevent your Twitter account from getting suspended. If you are following a ton of people and no one is following you back, Twitter assumes your account belongs to a spammer who is trying to get as many followers as possible. Keeping the ratio healthy ensures your account stays active.

Be sure the ratio is higher for Follow Back than Follow. You want to leave room to follow back people who choose to follow you. If you have already maxed out your following ratio with new people you searched for, you won’t be able to follow back people who find you. We like to leave auto follow back at 1.5 to 1.

5. Manually Search for Influencers.

Use the profile search to find people who would be interested in your business. You can search for a keyword included in their profile, like “mom” or “office manager”. Select people who have more than 1000 friends, or even more, if possible. If you are starting from scratch with 0 following, go ahead and immediately follow the first 20 profile matches. Be sure to adjust your ratio so you don’t max out right away. The default is 1.2 following to 1 followers, so you’ll need to temporarily set it to 20 to  1. After a few days, bring it back down to 5 to 1 so you don’t get flagged as a spammer. A healthy ratio after you have over 50 people followers is 1.2 to 1.

6. Set up an Auto Search.

This is the real genius of TweetAdder. Once it runs out of profiles you hand-selected, it will search for people and follow them automatically. We haven’t found another application that will do this. 

It looks back through tweets to see what people are talking about and then follows them based on their conversations. Try to get pretty specific so you can be really targeted. It will make your follow of their account especially relevant.

7. Set up Auto Unfollowing.

Be sure to set up unfollowing as well. You should unfollow anyone who hasn’t followed you within a reasonable amount of time. Three days is a nice number, since it ensures people who follow you are active users. You need to keep your ratio of following to followers healthy. If you have followed too many people and not enough people are following you back, Twitter thinks you are a spam account and will shut you down. 1.2 following to followers is a pretty safe number for unfollowing.

8. Maintain.

You should periodically check back to make sure there are enough people waiting to be followed and that your ratios look okay. Keep in mind the profile search feature isn’t automatic, so it’s a good idea set a recurring calendar reminder every two weeks to go in and add manually more people to follow. This is how you will find most influential users since they generally have the most followers.

9. Give Back.

You should tweet multiple times per day. At least once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening to cover the different times people are viewing tweets. You can use a number of different programs to find out when you should be tweeting to your particular audience. They can also determine your most influential followers are so you can interact with them more or offer them special deals. These people could be converted into brand evangelists.

Be sure to tweet interesting and relevant content for your audience demographics. Also monitor your account and be sure to get back to people quickly. Try to take conversations off-line into private messages if they’re starting to get too long so you don’t annoy your other followers. Be sure to shorten all links and only include pictures when necessary.

It is very hard to talk about your brand in 140 characters, so you should always post links to relevant information on your blog whenever possible. You can also ask people to visit your Facebook page if you have an event or to sign up for your email list for more in-depth updates.

Do you have any questions or suggestions? Let us know.

8 Ways to Create Better Facebook Content

Social Sonar - Thursday, January 24, 2013
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Facebook is something everyone has these days, but marketers can still find creating and using social media pages overwhelming. How much posting is too much? What do you post to get attention from your followers? How do you build valuable content? Here are some simple rules to help you create the best Facebook fan page.

1. Keep it short.
Facebook users normally look at their newsfeeds via their smartphones or tablets, which means less space to view content. Grab their attention with short, valuable tidbits.

2. Ask for feedback.
You can create a customizable questionnaire to obtain solid feedback on your brand or services. Use Facebook’s poll functionality to start asking questions that will make your business run more efficiently and better reach the needs of your customers.

3. Write Facebook Notes.
Perhaps your business doesn't allow for weekly blog post, but you still have things to tell your followers and the format is too long for a regular post. Try using Facebook Notes to feature your insights in this shorter form. As an added bonus, the info also gets indexed in search engines.

4. Call Users to Action.
Ask a question, post an image, share a video or link, and invite feedback. If your content doesn’t offer some way for users to engage, you’ll get less traffic on your page.

5. Demonstrate Your Expertise.
If you're running a clothing shop, you should have some strong knowledge on fashion trends. Create a list of how-tos or offer tips on what your business knows.

6. Reward your Fans.
You always want to show your appreciation for followers who comment and stay in touch with your brand. Offer some Facebook exclusives from your business. It’s quick and easy a way to say, “thank you!”

7. Improve your Image.
Don't just search on Google images for fun or quirky photos. Post things that are going on with your business by taking photos or videos with your smartphone. This helps others see your brand in action.

8. Be Direct.
While you want to keep your posts short, you also want to make the messages relevant. If people are unclear with a call to action, they will be less likely to engage.

Most importantly, have fun with your Facebook page! Since it’s social media, engaging your followers doesn't mean only having business-related posts. People care more about engaging content that adds value to their everyday experience.

Happy Marketing!

How to Write Content for Facebook and Twitter

Social Sonar - Thursday, January 10, 2013

For those of you who have time to write your own Facebook posts and Twitter tweets, here's a helpful guide based on what we tell our own writers.

General Social Media Advice

  • Include an image and/or link whenever possible. Example: “Thank goodness it's Friday! This week is toast. http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m43b06Wj0g1rosawp.jpg
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    Include an image in Facebook posts whenever possible.

  • People LOVE motivational and inspirational quotes. Try to work in at least one per week.
  • Beautiful images, cartoon jokes, and cute pictures are always popular, as well. Try to work in at least one per week.
  • Include a question or “call to action” whenever possible. These should start with a verb or action word. The easier the question is to answer, the better. Try to keep it from being Yes or No. For example, this question would likely be answered Yes or No: “It’s Friday night! Are you going out?” This is a question likely to get more engagement: “It’s Friday night! What's on your agenda?”
  • Include information about the local area, if possible. Example: “Looks like a lot of fun family stuff is going on this weekend. What do you have planned? http://events.sfgate.com/search?cat=&has_kids=1
  • Try to limit the number of questions to one per post. Otherwise it gets too confusing and people don’t know how to answer. Example: “It's Friday. Are you staying in or going out? What are you doing the rest of the weekend?” vs. “It's finally Friday! What are you looking forward to this weekend?”

Facebook

  • Facebook has a maximum image height or width of 960 pixels.
  • You should post on Facebook at least three times per week. You can do it once a day if the information is varied enough.
  • Include only one link per Facebook post.
  • Encourage people to respond by asking questions or requesting photos / stories / comments.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people to Like posts. “'Like’ this if you have ever dreamed of ice cream.”

Twitter

  • Ideally you should tweet 1-3 times per day to catch people at various points in their feed. You can use a service like Crowdbooster to determine the best time(s) to post. They offer a 30 day free trial, and it's only $9 a month for their basic plan.
  • Encourage people to share by making the tweets easy to pass along without edits. All they should have to do is retweet.
  • Tweets are limited to 140 characters. Leave room for the tweetpic link if you’re including one (18 characters), shortened links, and your twitter handle if they retweet.
  • You don’t need to include the your Twitter handle in the body of a tweet. If someone wants to RT it, they will leave the Twitter handle at the front, anyway.
  • Don't be afraid to ask people to RT. "RT this if you can't live without butter."
  • Include popular hashtags to take advantage of current topics. Check out Hashtags.org to see what's trending.

Have you discovered tactics that work well? Share them below!