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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!

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.

Who Should Sign Up for Social Sonar

Social Sonar - Thursday, February 07, 2013
Happy Cat

We want all our clients to be this happy.

It's our goal to make sure everyone who signs up with Social Sonar is happy with our services. Part of this includes finding people who feel the same way we do. 

You will be happiest with our services if you agree with any of the following statements:

  • I haven't logged into Facebook or Twitter for a week; that's really bad for my business.
  • I know customers are asking questions online, but I don't have time to answer. I'm too busy running my business.
  • I have a basic understanding of social media, but I know I don't have the expertise to write content for these channels.
  • My time is better spent running my business than writing Facebook posts and tweets.
  • I want to be seen as an industry expert. I would rather talk about things my customers want to hear rather than my specific business.
  • I thought about (or used to have) someone at my business managing my social media, but I would rather use someone who is properly trained.
  • Social media is an investment.

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
  • Basement Cat in Sweater

    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!

How to Protect Your Online Reputation

Social Sonar - Friday, January 04, 2013

Sharing stories with friends and family is something people have always done. We discuss our relationship issues, career goals, and customer service experiences. Now we have the ability to let everyone know on social media, including strangers, what we have encountered. 

The issue many businesses find is that feedback is given anonymously. As business owner, you have to question the validity of feedback. Is it a consumer who genuinely wants to provide information to improve your service? Maybe a former employee? Perhaps a competitor looking to take business away from you? A bad review can hurt your business and ensure potential consumers will question whether to support your establishment.

Whatever the circumstances, you have to protect your online reputation. Here are a few tips to ensure you're looking out for your brand.

Listen

It's important to know what people think of your business, from customer service to products. Set up Google Alerts, which send an email any time your brand is mentioned online. Provide an area on your website where people can get in touch with you to leave feedback so you can recognize a potential issue early.

Respond

Some sites allow you to reply to your critics. It says a lot about your business if you answer a negative review with a polite or even positive statement. This will not only let the reviewer know you're paying attention, it will show potential consumers feedback is welcomed and addressed.

Encourage Positive Publicity

It's true you can't make everyone happy, but what about the customers who already enjoy your business? Rally your loyal supporters to get online and share their great experiences. Ask customers if they are willing to give a testimonial for your site, and provide them with your Facebook url so they can spread the good word there.

Establish Standard Policies

If you have not instituted a customer service policy, you may want to create one now. You want to make sure your employees understand the necessity of great customer care. Train them on how to speak to difficult clients. Everyone who works in your business should understand that each customer experience is important. You're building a brand and need to develop excellent communication lines between your employees and your customers.

It may seem time consuming at first, but the constant feedback can create the kind of buzz that will only benefit your business. Being aware of what is being said about your business will provide insights to improve and grow.

Growing Your Facebook and Twitter Audience

Social Sonar - Monday, December 17, 2012

Growing a fan base on Facebook is less of a "Build it, and they will come." philosophy and more of a "Respectfully join the conversation." situation. Increasing your audience requires a lot of help, since fan page permissions are very limited. You can't necessarily send messages to a new user or even see their friends. So how do you find new people? Rely on your current fan base.

Friends shoppingSharing is Caring.

Your number one goal is to get people to interact with your posts. Every time someone likes, shares, or comments on a post on your Facebook page, their friends are likely to see it in their feeds. Hopefully a friend will want to learn more and follow the link to investigate your page. If you have a lot of great content on your page, they'll "like" it too.

If you're a dentist and your Facebook page is full of pictures of severe gingivitis, people are probably not going to "like" it. But if you have fun images, inspirational quotes, and cute messages from the staff, a referred visitor is more likely to "like" your page.

Spread the Word.

People won't know you have a Facebook page if you don't tell them.

  • Add Facebook and Twitter icons to your website in a prominent place, usually the top right.
  • Print your Facebook and Twitter links on business cards, invoices, flyers, ads, and add them email signatures.
  • Post a decal or flyer in your window and on your counter.
  • Add the links on your packaging and freebies printed with your business information.

Convert Customers to Evangelists.

Your current customers are your best chance at getting new customers. As they are paying, ask if they have signed up for your Facebook or Twitter pages. Let them know the latest and greatest information about your business, as well as exclusive discounts, are available online.

Tweet It Out.

Your Twitter audience is much easier to grow than your Facebook fans. You can use software like TweetAdder to look for people who fit your customer / client demographic. Search local Twitter profiles and past tweets for keywords that indicate an interest in your services or products. Then follow those people. If they don't follow you back after a few days, unfollow them and move on.

Twitter only allows you to follow people at a certain ratio. If you have followed too many people who have not followed you back, Twitter will not allow you to follow any more until you unfollow some. Be careful not to follow or unfollow too many people at once, or Twitter will suspend your account for spam activities. This is why we recommend using a program to find new followers.

The content you post on your Facebook and Twitter pages should be different. Every so often, remind people you have more information on Facebook, and share a link to your page. This should help pull over more interested people on your Facebook page, where fans are harder to find.

If this all sounds daunting or confusing, you're not alone. Feel free to call or email us with any questions you have about social media.