Do You Wear a Mask?

When it comes to interacting online, there are as many opinions as there are people. You see words like “authenticity” and “transparency” tossed around, and there are discussions of privacy that deserve our attention. The fact is, we all wear masks all the time. You behave differently at home with your family than you do at work. When I was working as an office assistant, I wore makeup to work everyday and realized it was because I felt the need to hide a little in that particular environment. I’ve never had a job where I was 100% openly dava. (Except for now. As a freelancer, I’m me, through and through.)

This is one of my better masks!

This is one of my better masks!

Years ago, I started writing letters, by hand, on paper, mailed at the USPS to my parents-in-law. The idea was to communicate with them in a way I could control. They wouldn’t hear anything in the background like on the phone, and they couldn’t see my weird self like on visits. I could show them what I wanted them to see and share news they would like to hear. It totally worked, too. They went from not really liking me very much and expecting news of a divorce any day to thinking that I was a pretty good mom and we were a happy family (which was all true).

In a way, social media profiles are like my letters. People are showing you what they want you to see. There are plenty of posts and studies and articles about how Facebook makes us lonelier and Pinterest makes us less satisfied because we feel like our friends are doing better than we are, or that we can never have the kind of beautiful home or wedding or whatever that other people do. And, lots of people do only share the good stuff.

There’s this whole other group of people, though, who seem to use social media as a place to talk only about the bad stuff. People who share every little thing that goes wrong, and who ask questions like “Why can’t I ever catch a break?” or who share way too much about their family drama, or who complain about their jobs, or just whatever. Maybe it’s their way of combatting all those pictures of happy people? Who knows, but it sure is tiresome.

Then, there are some people who share nothing personal. Maybe they only share links, articles, and photos regarding one topic — writing, or music, or art, or cooking. Those people bore me in an entirely different way. I want to know what they think about those things, where they live, what their lives are like to some degree.

So, it’s a balancing act. You have to show some happy stuff, but also a little bit of bad stuff — but not too much. You need to share stuff that shows your interests and knowledge, but other stuff too. Then, bit by bit, you create an online mask that is much like your real self.

Do you consider any of this when you post on Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+, or wherever you hang out? Do you have a different mask for each platform? What are your thoughts on being authentic? Do you actively tone down parts of your personality when you are online?

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5 Social Media Lies That Scare Business Owners

I am a copywriter. I have a degree in English, with a concentration in writing. Running a business has given me an education in marketing and sales. Personal inclination has given me some expertise in social media. (Yeah, I’m addicted. So what? There are worse things.)

So, while I may want to write articles all day, I often end up answering client questions about social media and marketing, and whether it’s all useful or if it’s just hype. I don’t mind

 

"You mean that's not TRUE?!"

“You mean that’s not TRUE?!”

answering those questions, and sometimes it’s fun to help a new client get things set up. Usually though, people believe one of the following lies they have been told and (continue) to avoid using social media platforms at all.

1. Social media will take up a lot all of my time. This is probably the biggest fear that busy people have. Social media will take up exactly as much time as you let it. Sure, you could spend hours upon hours exploring, looking at photos, watching videos, and reading articles. Lots of people do. But you could also spend hours in front of the television. Or, you can turn the TV off.

The easiest way to make sure social media doesn’t become a time suck (the most common description I hear from people who don’t use it) is to set yourself some limits. Decide that you can dedicate exactly 15 minutes to Facebook in the morning, or give yourself 20 minutes to respond to comments on all of the social channels you use. You have control and will not be magically hypnotized and forced to spend days staring at your screen.

2. There is no practical business use for social media.If you still think this, you are well behind the curve. There are tons of practical business uses for social media, from networking with colleagues, peers, and mentors to providing outstanding customer service and learning more about what your customers want and need. It’s true that not many sales happen on social media platforms, but all sorts of other business stuff does. You can tell people about sales, find out what people are looking for, describe new products, speak individually to the people who make running your business possible, and you can educate people.

Most business owners will tell you about something their customers just don’t understand. Social media gives you the opportunity to help them understand. You can explain your relationship with your suppliers, why your return policy is what it is, where your products come from, how you are different from the guy down the street, what they should expect after making a purchase, or whatever else it is people just don’t get.

3. I will have no privacy at all if I use social media.You get to decide what you share or don’t share on social media. Facebook is probably the most frequently cited platform when people have privacy concerns. You shouldbe concerned about privacy. You should educate yourself about the terms of service of any platformyou use. But you should also always remember that you have control. Facebook has a number of ways you can (and should) separate your personal profile from your business page.

Not one single social media platform that you might want to use for business requires you to list the high school you attended. You should guard your home address and phone number carefully. Most certainly be careful with information regarding your children, especially images of them. Authenticity and transparency are great, but so is common sense. If you are using social media for business, then talk about your business.You have control regarding what you share.

4. There are ways to automate social media so I can “set it and forget it”. There are automation tools. By and large, they don’t work. It is much better to choose one or two platforms that you can easily manage than to start accounts on five sites and then automate them. Probably the most commonly used automation tool is linking your different accounts together so that you can type in one status update and it will appear on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter – probably others, too, but I don’t know because I don’t use those tools.

Why is this such a bad idea? Are your conversations with your colleagues and peers the same as with your customers? What about your friends? There probably is some overlap, but it is likely your peers know much more about your business than your customers do, and your friends probably don’t want to hear about your business. Your audience is important, and varies depending on which social media platform you are using.

5. Social media will help me make thousands of dollars more each year. Social media can do lots of things, but it is not a magic money maker. Like any other marketing tool, it requires strategy and work. Sales don’t usually take place on social media sites, although many of your friends, fans, likers, or whatnot will visit your primary web site where sales can take place. (You have a primary web site, right?)

There are stories about business owners making connections that lead to huge sales because they are active on LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or whatever, but there are also stories about business owners making connections that lead to huge sales on the golf course. Neither social media nor golf is required to run a successful business. You can make connections anywhere.

Since I spend a considerable amount of time online, it surprises me that there are still lots of people out there who believe these lies. None of this is new stuff, but for a business owner trying to figure out how to get started, or why things are working as expected, it is important stuff.

If you would like to learn more about social media and how it can work in your industry, for your business, you might enjoy digibiztrainingcompany.com. Take a look. Enjoy some blog posts. Sign up to receive email.

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How To Decide If Your Business Needs a Newsletter

Since people pay me to write newsletters for their businesses, I’m mostly in favor of them. But there are some situations where they just don’t work. In this post, I’m going to tell you about three of my past clients. Reading about their experiences with newsletters, and in one instance, social media, may help you make some decisions about your own marketing efforts.

Blueberry or Apple? Sometimes decisions are hard!

Case Study #1 – The Plumber

I live in a small community, on a mountain. There are somewhere around 7,000 residents, and three plumbers. One of those plumbers decided to hire me to improve his company’s web site copy and to write a monthly newsletter.

What kind of content would you like to receive from your plumber? In retrospect (this was one of my first clients) I think that a quarterly newsletter, sent at the beginning of each season, would have been better than a monthly newsletter. It should have included lots of tips on maintaining your home during the upcoming season, a funny story or customer highlight, a coupon of some sort, and maybe a note about the plumber’s family, or even a small community news section.

Instead, I did what the owner asked and sent out a rather bland, monthly newsletter with sort of generic content that was more or less an ad being delivered to customers via email. I will readily accept the blame for  the fact that this newsletter didn’t produce the desired results because hindsight is 20/20. If the same, or a similar, client were to approach me today, my advice would be much different and also much more adamant.

Producing a newsletter that is almost like a community bulletin board is hard work. Telling people how to fix things you get paid to fix feels like a risk. Writing in a very personal way to your customers can feel unprofessional. But those are the ways to make a newsletter work for a company that customers only need to call every few years. It may very well be that your time and money would be better spent on ad space. There is not a one size fits all marketing strategy.

*Note: Every business with a physical location should be findable online. There are still people who keep phone books, but most of us are searching for phone numbers online. Make sure we can find you! 

Case Study #2 – The Hair Salon

Another of my very early customers was a hair salon. The owner of the salon had tried a newsletter and gotten very poor results – along the lines of a 7% open rate. That means only 7% of the people she sent the newsletter to even opened it. Since this was still early in my copy writing career, I wanted to see if a newsletter could be effective for a salon, so I talked the owner into trading three haircuts for three newsletters.

You may be wondering what kind of open rate you should expect. It varies by industry. For the beauty industry the average is around 15%, which I think is absolutely dismal and reflects the fact that there is some bad email marketing going on in that business sector. The average open rate for my clients is around 30% across a range of industries.

For a hair care/beauty related establishment, email marketing can work wonders. By the end of our three months, the salon’s open rate had moved to 27%, and with each issue the owner reported a bump in the number of appointments for the following week. So, what did we change?

We took the stories from general to specific. Instead of talking about trends across the nation, we talked about things that were becoming popular locally. We offered customer spotlights, and included photos of customers. The salon owner kept track of questions customers asked each week and we developed articles based on those questions. We tested subject lines to find out which ones motivated people to open emails. The owner offered exclusive deals to newsletter subscribers.

The salon owner and I talked on the phone about once a week, and exchanged emails a couple of times a week. Generating ideas, finding images or taking photographs, thinking up deals and promotions, and even proofreading the rough draft of each issue took up a significant portion of her time. In this instance, it was worth the effort because it paid off in at least a few appointments more each month. Depending on your resources, time, and situation, you may decide email marketing is not worth the effort. This case study illustrates that poor results from email marketing can be remedied.

Case Study #3 The Truck Repair Business

Of the three case studies presented in this post, this is the one that I hesitate to share. I’m going to be very vague about the details, in an attempt to protect the identity of the company. I met with the CEO who had started his business in the 70s out of a trailer and worked his ass off to turn it into a nationally recognized company with representatives all over the country. There is absolutely no denying his business acumen, and I was flattered he agreed to talk with me.

He had been approached by an agency who had pitched him a digital marketing package. They would handle his company’s Twitter account, blog, and Facebook page – none of which existed at that point. He asked me for a proposal, and my price was a fraction of what the agency was going to charge. He accepted my proposal, and I set about trying to learn how his industry works, and what his needs were. Even though I really believed a newsletter would be an excellent tool for his company, he was unconvinced, because he really hated receiving newsletters from other companies. I began with social media.

He was desperately seeking a salesperson for a particular region at that point, so I offered to try write an ad he could post on a couple of major sites. I mentioned it on his newly-built Facebook page.

As soon as he saw it, he called and scolded me and asked me to immediately take down the post mentioning the job opening. He told me “We are not the kind of company that looks for help in a place like Facebook.” I cannot adequately convey the amount of scorn that went into his voice when he said the word “Facebook.”

I am not now, nor have I ever been a big fan of Facebook for business purposes. It’s hard to deny the power of social media when it comes to filling employment vacancies, though. Maybe he didn’t want his competitors to know he had a vacancy. Maybe he had some other reason, I don’t know.

What I do know is that if you feel annoyed every time you open your email because you have too many messages, if you can’t stand Facebook, if you think Twitter is the stupidest thing ever, and you have no clue what Pinterest is, but you know that anything with a name that dumb is worthless…well, digital marketing is probably not a good place for you to spend your marketing time or budget – no matter what people are telling you.

When you run a small business, you must be comfortable with your marketing activities. It’s okay if you distrust the internet. There is no rule that says that you have to market online. People need to be able to find your company using a search engine, but you don’t have to use email marketing, or any other digital tool, to be successful. Just because something is working for someone else does not mean it will work for you.

Evaluate your customers’ needs, your resources, and your tolerance levels before you make decisions about newsletters or any other marketing tools. Even if the gurus are telling you that you must do a thing, decide for yourself, and if something doesn’t work, abandon it and find something that will work.

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Enough with the Navel Gazing

From Friday evening until Monday afternoon, the modem that makes the phone and internet service in my house work stopped working. At first, I was annoyed because I wanted to see what was happening on Twitter and Facebook. Then, I was worried because, “What if client’s were trying to get in touch with me?” So, throughout the day Monday, I was anxious, but also secretly a little excited that by the time I finally checked my email, there

Not my navel…

would be a couple of requests for work, or at least requests for more information in there.

Stop laughing. I can hope.

Of course my inbox was full of LinkedIn updates (I’ve got to turn those emails off somehow!) and spam from Amazon.

So then I started thinking about what I would have done all day Monday if I hadn’t been chasing a new modem. The answer has me re-thinking the whole idea of focus.

When you need clients (as I do) you need to spend a fair amount of time marketing. It’s awfully easy to put things under the heading “marketing” that probably shouldn’t be there. For example, reading through the discussion threads on LinkedIn daily is not really marketing. Posting updates to Facebook five or six times a day does not increase sales. Reading news stories, following election coverage, looking at photos of hurricane damage…well, you get the idea. I spend too much time doing all of those things.

This week, I am going to spend some time sharpening my focus. Here are a few important things, just off the top of my head:

Spend more time writing. Instead of checking Facebook, write a paragraph or two of this blog, on some of my personal projects, or guest posts. Those are better marketing projects than reading discussions on LinkedIn, or using any other type of social media networking. Social media has its place, but it is a limited place and should not take up much time during the work day.

Send more emails. Since my specialty is email marketing, you might imagine I’m right on top of clicking “send.” Remember the story about the cobbler and his barefoot children? Well, my own email list is sadly small because I have neglected it. When things are slow, I should focus on building that list, writing interesting stuff to send to the people on it, and otherwise following the excellent advice I give clients. (By the way, if you would like to receive my newsletter, go ahead and sign up.)

Make more marketing calls. I have always had good luck with just picking up the phone and calling people. It’s one of those things, like washing the dishes, that I dread for hours or even days before just biting the bullet. If you hate making calls, try only calling companies you have researched carefully. If you see something that indicates they might have a need for your service, it’s usually a pretty easy conversation. Making one or two calls instead of reading about the latest outrage committed by a politician is better for your business, and probably your spirit, too.

Keep a backup list handy. Your daily list probably consists of things that must be done right now. It’s really easy to waste time after everything on that must-do-now list is done. It is far more productive to keep a backup list of things that you want to work on but think you don’t have time to work on handy. I want to write fiction, but trick myself into believing I don’t have time to dedicate to it. If I limited the time I spend clicking links my smart friends on Twitter share there, I’d have more time for writing fiction.

What are your best focusing tips? How can I make sure that my time is spent doing things that will result in a higher number in my bank account?

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There Is No Right Answer

Yesterday, I spoke to a potential client on the phone. We had already met in person, exchanged emails, and talked in detail about the work he’s considering paying me to do. His main question yesterday: What’s the difference in a blog and a newsletter?

It was an interesting conversation for lots of reasons. On the surface, the answer to his question seems pretty simple. But his real question, the one he didn’t know how to ask, was different. What he really wanted to know was how to use his blog posts and he email list differently for marketing. He couldn’t quite grasp the difference between subscribing to a blog so that you get an email when there is a new post, and a newsletter. I’m not sure he understood it any better when we hung up.

We have more marketing tools than ever before. Most are easy to access, and many are either free or very low-cost. How do you choose which ones to use? What is going to make the biggest impact in the least amount of

Which of the blooms is the best?

time? (Note: I didn’t say for the least amount of money. These days an investment of time is often more costly than an investment of dollars.)

It depends” is generally not what business people trained during a different era and comfortable with a different set of rules want to hear. They want me to sell them something. They want me to list all the reasons they should use email marketing, or social media, or whatever they are thinking about doing, and make them feel good about it the way someone selling ad space might have done at a different time.

But blog posts are not ads and email newsletters are not direct mail, and social media is not the same as Chamber of Commerce networking events – and ad space is still relevant. The digital marketing tools at your disposal can be used successfully in lots of different ways. Yourpersonality, or your brand depending on the size of your organization, plays a huge role in how you should approach marketing. If you prefer a suit and tie, you are probably going to be more comfortable using LinkedIn than Twitter. That’s a broad generalization, but sometimes those are useful.

The individuals who are most successful in digital marketing are not afraid to be who they are, warts and all. If who you are is buttoned-up, perfectly coifed, and pulled together all of the time, then you should choose a niche that celebrates rigidity and formality. Everyone else will most likely find you a little boring. Sorry to be brutal, but it’s true. Humans who make mistakes, laugh, cry, and succeed despite struggles are interesting. They have stories to tell and people like stories.

I’m still struggling with how to explain clearly, simply, and accurately why my potential client should generate different content for his blog and his newsletter because what he really needs to do is share his story – with an audience likely to find it interesting.

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Expanding Horizons, Services, and (UH-OH) Waistlines

Somehow despite my best – okay, total lack of – effort, my waistline is 1.5 inches bigger this year than last year. Ugh.

A friend has convinced me to expand my business and begin sending letters of introduction and queries to trade publications. Hooray!

My dad got me chickens. Lots of baby chickens. The jury is still out on whether this falls into the ugh or hooray category, but it is definitely a learning experience and an expansion of my personal knowledge.

All of these things have the concept of expansion on my mind. Sometimes expanding is great, like when it means you might make more money or have more fun with your work. But other times it can be terrible. When the clutter in your junk drawer takes over the counter as well you are looking at a bad expansion. It’s not easy to know which will be good and which will be bad, either.

Clients often come to me when they are considering an expansion of some sort. They may want to expand their presence on the internet, or their services. Sometimes they just want to expand the number of brochures they have available to show prospective customers. Even though I usually want the work, sometimes I advise against the expansion.

When it comes to social media, especially, each expansion should be carefully considered. After all, time is valuable, and is the one real cost to using social media in your business. You cannot “maintain a presence” on any platform without actually spending time there. Being social cannot be automated. It would be like sending your resume to a party and saying you attended.

There are all kinds of promises to help you gain more followers, make more connections, get more likes, and on and on. Some experts promise they will teach you how to “do” social media in 10 minutes a day. It’s all true, too. You really can fairly easily get thousands of followers on Twitter, hundreds of likes on Facebook and hundreds of connections on Linkedin. The problem is, it will all be worthless unless you actually invest the time and do the work to find the right audiences on those platforms.

The same is true of a blog.

You can find all sorts of shortcuts to increase the number of people who come to your site and look, at least for a second or two, at your blog. But if they don’t care what you are writing about, they don’t interact with you, or they just plain aren’t buying what you are selling, what’s the point?

Before you decide to expand your social media use, think about why you want to, and what you hope to accomplish by doing so, and what the expansion will cost in terms of your time. If you want to make some new friends, Twitter is a great tool to do so. I’ve made several connections that became important real-life friendships using it. Some of those connections ended up generating some business, but not all of them, and that was never my end-goal in using Twitter.

Most people don’t start with a defined strategy. If you work at a big company and are launching a campaign, or a at a start-up, you might have the luxury of a clean slate on which to state goals and benchmarks and methods for reaching them. If you own a small business and have for years, it’s much more likely that you started a Facebook Page one day because it seemed like a good idea, or you tried blogging because someone told you it would help your Google rank. In other words, you are probably approaching online stuff in a piecemeal, haphazard kind of way, and each new thing getting some buzz gets a little bit of your attention. Or, maybe you are seeing results from one platform or another so you are thinking it might be good to expand those efforts.

The best thing to do is to choose one area for expansion. That way, you can measure your time investment and the results, and you are less likely to get overwhelmed. As always, the best place to start is your own web site because you own it. On other platforms, from Facebook to Tumblr to Google+ to Twitter, you are renting space and everything can be changed or gone in an instant. Even if you don’t write a regular blog, you should be spending some time driving traffic to your web site. You can comment on other posts or in forums. You can put links to other interesting and related things on your site somewhere – under a tab called “trends” or something. You can simply spend a little time each day learning howto use your web site. It’s a powerful tool!

Once you have your own backyard in order, you can move on to something else. There are lots of platforms to choose from and all of them have a different audience, and a different potential purpose. You might make learning about them your focus for a few months, then choose one to expand your presence. After you have it under control, and you know how much of your time it will take, and what kind of results to expect, you can choose the next one. Eventually you will hit a tipping point.

How do approach an expansion, either in your business or personal development? Do you study it first, or jump right in? Does ROI play any kind of role?

While I wait for your answers, I’m going to plan an expansion of my fitness activities…

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