All posts in “Whitepaper”

Social Media and the Small Business: Heaven or Hell? (…and 5 tips to make it easier to cope!)

Ruth Bastedo is Director, Business Development at Social Media Group. Follow @rutbas

Last week, I was up in the Muskoka region, which around these parts is affectionately known as “cottage country”, talking to a sold out group of women business owners in the region. The event was organized by the Mukoka YWCA’s Women in Business program, and the topic was “Strategies for Success”- based on an article I did last March for the Globe and Mail on women entrepreneurs, “Ten Strategies for Achieving Success as an Entrepreneur“.

It was a fabulous evening, and it was great to get to know the group of 60+ women business owners, all of whom were keenly looking for ways to build and market their businesses in a smaller community.

The talk was not on social media. It wasn’t really about marketing. It was about how business owners set goals for success and put together the support structure required to reach them- but “dealing with social media” turned out to be a hot topic. I am always struck in these types of situations by the love/hate relationship that small business owners have with digital marketing in general, and social media as a sub-section of that.

Digital marketing is a necessity for all small businesses. Period. You ignore it at your peril. But many, many business owners (and I would put myself in that bucket, in my time as a business owner) have a huge challenge finding the time, resources, workflow and strategy to make it truly effective. Let’s face it, it can be a grind. That’s the hell part. And then all you feel is guilt for ignoring what you know can be an incredibly powerful, game changing exercise.

BUT, it doesn’t have to be this way. Really. It can be heavenly.

It took me a long time to find my groove in the social media space, and I’ve been in digital communications for 15 years. This is hard stuff to get your head around, but if you tweak your approach, and find that magic combination of channels, content, tools and workflow. It can be very easy to execute, and incorporate into a daily routine. Once I hit that right combination, I started seeing results immediately. My social media world is aligned, and for now, does what I need it to do.

Looking at this task from an non-marketer’s perspective, here are 5 tips that I think would be of huge benefit to any small business owner, looking to get a handle on “this social media thing”, with a minimum amount of pain.

1. Access “Social Media 101” content. There’s a ton of it around. One recent post that I thought was a good solid, up to date overview of the major channels is “Social Media 101: Getting Started on the Top Social Networks”. Pick one or two as a starting point for your company. It’s likely going to be Twitter and Faceboook, for consumer oriented companies, and Twitter and LinkedIn for business oriented companies.

2. Determine your marketing objectives. Do you want sales leads? Brand awareness? Do you want to reach out to your customers, and get them to refer other customers to you? Is your marketing effort local, regional or national? It could even be international. Be clear on what you’d like to get out of this time you invest in social media. How can social media integrate or support what you are already doing on the marketing front. Look at models out there that reflect your objectives.

3. Be clear about your target audience. Who are these people? What information is going to be most relevant to them? How are they going to use and engage in social media? In order to engage with your audience in a meaningful way, try making a list of all the ways your content can add value to their lives. This list should guide you in developing value add content.

4. Develop what we call a “content strategy”. This is developing a mechanism to create, curate, source or simply pass on content that is going to be relevant to your clients and customers. People are more likely to “follow” you if you are providing thoughtful content that is going to add value to them. You have to figure out where to find this content, and how often you are going to “share” it with them. Quite often, we develop “editorial” or “conversation” calendars ahead of time, so you know what themes you are going to focus on every week. Download the Social Media Group White Paper on Content Marketing for a good introduction.

5. Find a tool that works for you. There are lots out there, but a good tool makes all the difference in the world. A couple of months ago, I started using a tool from a local company called Get Elevate, which makes it easy to find content, curate it, and send it out via Twitter. There are some good lists out there- here’s the type of thing you should be looking for: 50 Mostly Free Social Media Tools You Can’t Live Without in 2012. Find something that you find intuitive, and easy for you and your staff to use, and that lines up to your marketing objectives.

As a small business, keep your scope small and focused, and before diving in, be clear on what you want to achieve with your social media investment. Test as you go… at least for the first little while. Get help if you have to, professional or otherwise- but social media can be a very valuable part of any marketing plan, but you have to at some point, just start somewhere.

Paid, Earned and Owned Are Dead

It’s absolutely perfect timing for this blog post (which I’ve been thinking about for the last month or so), hot on the heels of Altimeter Group’s report, released this week, titled, The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Will Combine Paid, Earned and Owned Media. It’s a great report that identifies and speaks to a trend we first saw emerge in 2009: the fact that multiple channels and multiple sources of content inevitably bring cross-pollination, which is an operational problem for most marketing and communications organizations (while you can download our recent whitepaper on the subject, we’ve been speaking and writing about this topic since 2010, here’s a post that references much of our own past thinking around the challenges of convergence in paid, earned and owned media, as well as a link to a whitepaper on the same subject we co-authored with Digg in early 2010). I strongly suggest you read the Altimeter report – Social Media Group will be contributing case studies from our own client work to Altimeter as they support their new research into this topic on the speaking circuit this Fall.

So what do I mean by “Paid, Earned and Owned are Dead”? Simply: the distinctions we have made about content based on its origins and delivery methods are rapidly becoming meaningless. As our own public communications channels have multiplied and diversified in ways unimaginable just ten years ago, so do our forms of content. I’ll give you a real-world example (click on the links to see the actual activity illustrating my point):

Company A creates and  publishes an original article on the paid Forbes AdVoice platform. The article is shared by employees of Company A via their personal Twitter accounts. The Twitter followers of those employees, who have no affiliation with Company A, start to share the content as well on multiple channels.

Is that original article paid, earned or owned? The answer is, confusingly, yes (it’s all of those things).

That’s what I mean by my somewhat controversial headline – we need to stop thinking about content (and channels) by our old, singular, labels (paid = mass advertising, earned = PR, owned = your website) and recognize that there are absolutely no boundaries between these types of content. In fact, what we’re looking at is a flexible, fluid publishing and sharing continuum; how the original work was created does not define it. Instead, what matters most is what happens to that content once it’s released. I would argue that our new set of labels should be about quality/interactions, rather than source, and that what content is can’t be defined until someone has engaged with it (or not). Ideally, a piece of content, like the Forbes AdVoice example used earlier, could be all (or most) of these things, though in no particular order: owned by origin, paid to scale, earned because of its quality.

This reminds me of a concept I spoke about first at the Society for New Communications Research Annual Symposium a few years ago, and which was covered not long afterwards by the Financial Post: as marketers, as communicators, you need to focus on one simple thing: and that is making your content (your messages) good enough to steal. What your content gets labelled as afterwards will tell you just how well you did.

[More on how to leverage paid media to scale and hypercharge earned media]

New Free SMG Whitepaper: Unleash the Power of Content Marketing Part 1

SMG Content Marketing Logo

Today, we’re thrilled to release part one of our latest whitepaper: Unleash the Power of Content Marketing: Strategy and Considerations for Operations.


Truly a labor of love, when we sat down to write this whitepaper (it is jointly authored by Leona Hobbs, Michelle McCudden and myself), our vision was to provide a guidebook for marketers looking to execute content marketing programs inside their organizations.  Drawing on the expertise we’ve gleaned working with our clients on content marketing programs, we quickly realized that we had enough for two (or more) whitepapers.

So, we’ve split them up. Part one covers Strategy and Considerations for Operations – this is our best counsel and advice for leaders and executives about how they can set their teams up for success in the execution of content marketing programs. Part one of Unleash the Power of Content Marketing covers:

  • How to define your program
  • Building the case for change
  • How to structure operations
  • Content marketing and the sales funnel

Please take a look at an excerpt from Part 1 of Unleash the Power of Content Marketing and if you like what you see, download the entire thing. We’re always interested in conversation, so we look forward to hearing back from you. How does this whitepaper match your experiences as you plan strategy and operations for content marketing?

Oh, and Part 2 of Unleash the Power of Content Marketing covers concrete steps for achieving excellence in execution of content marketing tactics. Its scheduled for release in a couple of weeks.