Small Biz Growth– With a Little Help from Friends in the Marketplace

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Small businesses in small towns across America are fighting for survival.

But, getting to know the people and small businesses of Wabash Indiana, winner of the Small Business Revolution’s Main Street $500,000 Makeover has been a heartwarming journey, filled with hope and promise when all players in the marketplace come together.

wabashcityFor this makeover, Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Deluxe, along with Shark Tank star Robert Herjavec, employed their marketing and business expertise to help six small businesses learn more about what it takes to compete in their local and regional markets.

What is additionally important is that you look at the website that accompanies this series. There is a breakdown of each store’s problems and solutions, complete with actionable advice that could be applied to your business. In other words: Free social media marketing advice!!!

The full details of the project are in my previous blog. Here are the eight episodes so you can binge watch. Do you see any similarities to you, your business, your neighborhood, or town? Learn from the Wabash journey; take from it what you can. Then make your story something worth sharing with others.

(Anthony M. Scialis is an experienced print & broadcast writer who coordinates blog, Twitter & Facebook social media content to create a focused & powerful customer engagement effort which will bridge the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

The Front Porch of Life- Living and Doing Business in Small Towns

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“Too often we forget about the 120-million Americans building their homes, their businesses, and their lives in small towns far from the limelight” — not my words but those of successful entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavic reflecting on the plight of small towns and small businesses decaying away.

And that is unfortunate because statistics indicate more than 50% of the employed population works at a small business.

A nationwide contest was held among small towns to find the one that could best improve upon itself by the community.

Small towns like Wabash, Indiana.

And that is how the Small Business Revolution project and web series came to be, and I have the first episode here.

As explained and described on their website:

“Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Deluxe, along with Shark Tank star Robert Herjavec, employed their marketing and business expertise to help six small businesses learn more about what it takes to compete in their local and regional markets. The entire Wabash journey is captured in this eight-part web series. The opening episode provides a glimpse into the community, the businesses and the town leaders.”

Whether you are a small business in a small town such as Belfast ME where I have lived or in a big city like Boston where I have also resided, you will view the series seeing familiar problems, then hopefully say “aha there is a solution.”

( Anthony M. Scialis is an experienced print & broadcast writer who coordinates blog, Twitter & Facebook social media content to create a focused & powerful customer engagement effort which will bridge the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Why Your Small Business Needs Blogs— And Me

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BlogsB2C companies which feature blogs on their websites generate 88% more leads per month than those that do not. This is according to HubSpot, the world’s leading inbound marketing and sales platform. Let that settle in. Businesses which generate blogs about interesting things (along with their services or products) generate 88% more leads per month than competitors that don’t.

Well-thought-out, well-written blogs work because storytelling is a powerful way to attract readers, share information, open the lines of communication to foster engagement, build understanding of potential customer needs and convert these followers into loyal brand ambassadors.

More people looking at your store shelves. More people walking into your restaurant or bar. More potential income.

When I saw that 88% statistic I had a flashback to this line from Independence Day:

10 Years Social(Copyright © 1996 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Over the years, I’ve worked in print & broadcast media. People do not buy newspapers for the ads. They buy for the news. People do not listen to radio for the ads. They listen for the music.

In other words, people seek out something that will emotionally engage them.

And I have been saying for years that people are not on social media for the ads. They are there to share and engage, because they want to be emotionally connected. Repeatedly telling them what special you have for today is a disconnect— they may come in, but they are just as likely not to come back. You may have made a sale, but you didn’t convert them into loyal customers and certainly not created an emotional connection to recruit them as ambassadors for your business.

Granted, you want to keep using Twitter as a way of driving people to your website and Facebook pages. Equally so, you need to keep pace with competitors in the Facebook auction space for ads.

But, once you have funneled prospects to your website, then what? A few seconds of looking at ads or a contest. Maybe you hook them, maybe you don’t.

Consider generating two or three blogs a week to balance out your Facebook and Twitter self promotions. Give followers a reason to check back to your website several times a week. Provide some insight on how you do something. Recall a funny incident. Promote a survey. Give some free tips. Comment about something going on in the community.

Convinced, but you don’t have the time to write blogs? You don’t have the editorial skills to cultivate content? That’s where writers (such as myself— full disclosure) can assist you. Prices being charged on various websites range from as little as $5 for a simple blog up to and beyond $1000 for a complex blog.

As a veteran community writer, I’m on the more affordable side of that price bar. If you’re interested let’s talk. Let me help you SHARE information, so you can ENGAGE your readers, UNDERSTAND their needs and CONVERT them into customers.

It’s not about you anymore. It’s about them.

(Anthony M. Scialis is a social media strategist focusing on blogging & tweeting as a two-step customer service effort in bridging the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Millennials Said They’d Rather Do What Than Call Your Customer Service Dept.?

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Millennials would rather get their teeth cleaned than call a customer service line.

So says Rachel Burger in her Customer Think.com article Don’t Talk, Chat: 4 Ways to Tailor Your Customer Service to Millennials. (CustomerThink is a “global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises.”)

There are 80 million millennials in America alone, with an estimated total $200 billion in annual buying power. Wouldn’t you like to know what they are saying about your small business?

Consider this a customer service wake-up call — or rather a non-call — as a recent survey by Kelton Global for Salesforce’s Desk.com also indicates that when millenials have a problem with your product or service, they WILL NOT call. Twitter, Facebook, and on-line chat are pathways they will use to contact you.

Salesforce’s Desk.com is a platform that helps companies organize their customer service channels.

Yes, there are channels. Not just a 1-800 number. Or your store line. Social media channels.

This is a follow-up to my last blog Company Social Media Response Times to Customers Are Unsocial. 

As further proof, Lauren Brousell, who writes for CIO website, refers to that Kelton survey in her article Millennials Skip Traditional Customer Service for Online Troubleshooting. (CIO serves Chief Information Officers other IT leaders).

Brousell reports “81 percent say they would contact brands through social channels. And again, the other generations are also getting in on the action; 63 percent of Gen X-ers and 44 percent of Boomers would use social media for customer service.”

man phone1I found this interesting; most people to date would want to walk through a technical problem with a live person. But if millenials will go to great lengths to avoid a live CSR on the phone for a tech question, why would they bother for a simpler question?

In Burger’s article she points out that in terms of using the phone “32 percent of millennials say that their biggest gripe with customer service is that they cannot reach a live person when they want to.” And that “Millennials prefer live chat because there are no hold times, it’s convenient, and it automatically provides a record of the conversation.”

That preference applies to conversations on Twitter, Facebook and on-line chat.

All this to say that whether your biz is a corporate monolith with fingers stretching across the globe or a single brick/mortar on Main Street USA, customers control how they want to express their needs & frustrations. You can’t force them to talk to you only on the phone and only during your customer service hours.

Again from Burger’s article “Research shows that 78 percent of millennials prefer to receive customer support on Facebook, 43 percent on Twitter, 25 percent on Instagram, and 13 percent on LinkedIn. ”

You might want to listen when they speak. But you better have your Facebook, Twitter and other customer service channels monitored regularly by staff or a social media strategist to hear them.

(Photo courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Company Social Media Response Times to Customers are Unsocial

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FORTY-THREE days for a Facebook response. FIFTY-ONE days for a Twitter response. Granted, these statistics are from the “slowest” companies represented in an Eptica poll, but would you buy products from a small business that displayed anywhere near this level of ambivalence toward its customers?

Shep Hyken doesn’t think so. Neither do I. Neither should you.

Who is Shep Hyken? He is a customer service expert, professional speaker and bestselling author who works with companies and organizations that want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. In other words, he “knows” customer service.

In a blog he wrote “Social Media Response Time, Are You Fast Enough,” he was bowled over by the lack of acceptable response times businesses “on” social media were apparently giving to their customers AND non-customers.

The survey by Epitca, a global provider of multichannel customer interaction software, evaluated 500 US retailers on their ability to provide answers to 10 basic questions.

Response timesAverage response times were one day (and a few hours) for Facebook & Twitter.

Hyken wrote “This is nuts! If I have a problem, and I contact the company, I don’t want to have to wait almost eight hours to get a response. Maybe all I have is a simple question, I’m not even upset or angry. But, due to the frustration of having to wait hours, or even a day or more, for a response my simple question becomes a customer service debacle.”

It’s bad enough in the 21st century if your small business is not on Twitter or Facebook or does not have a blog— meaning you can’t or won’t hear what’s being said about you. But to put up lazily administrated token Twitter & Facebook accounts or websites without a blog and ignore comments & questions from customers until you get around to them, well, I firmly believe that is… rude and counter-productive.

Just posting pictures of what you have for sale or tweeting about store events is not going to entice people to walk into your business. Not the ones on social media. Let’s repeat. SOCIAL media. Your customers and potential customers wish to get up close & personal. They want to know why they should drive over to your store, walk in your door and pick up your product.

It’s called engagement.

And they will express this with questions tweeted, posted or in response to blogs. Calling is passe for most people. Who is watching your Twitter, Facebook and website/blog interactions? The college kid working part time? Your niece? You?

That’s the failing of many small biz owners who love social media because it offers multiple levels of free advertising, but don’t want to spend a portion of the savings on hiring a social media strategist or even just a writer like myself to make sure that there is not only solid content but someone “listening” to provide speedy customer service.

Look at those worst response times again. FORTY-THREE days for a Facebook response. FIFTY-ONE days for a Twitter response.

How would you like it if a vendor or the bank took that long to respond to you?

The full Eptica Infographic can be found here.

How to Use a USA Today Survey to Benefit Your Small Business

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Being aware/involved with surveys that pertain to your home customer base is a powerful and inexpensive way to build community support.

Salem MaCommunity involvement is critical when you are a small business. You need to have local shoppers know you, support you and care about your business to have it succeed. But it’s a two-way street.

For example, consider this current promotion:

Halloween 2015 is fast approaching, and USA TODAY 10Best is on a mission to find the best fun and spooky attractions and experiences available. We need your help! Vote once per day for your Halloween favorites in the categories of Best Halloween Destination, Best Theme Park Halloween Event, Best Haunted Hotel, Best Ghost Tour and Best Extreme Haunted Attraction. Voting ends on Monday, October 12 at noon ET, and winners will be announced on Friday, October 16.

This is the “Current Leader board” link for Salem MA in the Best Halloween Destination category.

If you are a restaurant on Washington Street, or an attraction on New Derby Street, or a craft-themed store on Essex Street then informing and motivating your current customers through social media to participate will go a long way to spread the word that your Small Business supports Salem MA (or whatever your community if this blog is being read outside of Salem).

Again, according to USA Today:

The witchy women of Salem’s infamous past have haunted the town since their unfortunate trials in 1692. The verdict for the town’s tourism industry, however, has been nothing but sunny. An entire industry is built around the city’s spooky and strange history and that all culminates come Halloween time when Salem Haunted Happenings brings pumpkin carving, parades, haunted cruises and all manner of history-based events for all ages. The city’s beautiful architecture really helps set the mood.

The synopsis could have highlighted the fact that Haunted Happenings is a MONTH-LONG celebration. It could have added that we have real witches walking about and working in our community. It could have also mentioned that we provide a Tourist Info Booth to help enhance a visitor’s experience so he or she spends more time at an attraction rather than looking for it.

So you take the initiative: point out those contributing factors in your company Facebook posts, tweets and blogs, as well as in your Instagram & Pinterest themes, etc.

Let the public know that you support the goal of winning the survey. Vote for Salem!  And Salem will vote for you.

 

Reporter’s Notebook: Why Men Watch Football

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What is it that excites men about football? What’s the big attraction? Why is it that some men will sit down for three, six, or even nine hours in front of a TV set when football is on, yet they won’t sit still for more than 15 minutes for anything else when they’re home?

Why MenThose are the questions posed by a former protege of mine, Bob Andelman, 20 years ago when he authored the book, Why Men Watch Football: A Report from the Couch. Now there is a 20th Anniversary edition, newly available in digital form. Good for you Bob.

He interviewed dozens of football fans, sportscasters, sports psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists to get to the root of the question, why do men watch football? Among the reasons (or excuses):

  • Rites of passage
  • The hometown connection
  • Winning by association
  • Hero worship
  • The military connection
  • Acting out a primal instinct
  • The allure of numbers
  • An urge to gamble
  • The great escape

Bob, who has had a successful career as author and podcaster Mr. Media took the time to answer a couple of questions for me

Since you wrote the book 20 years ago what strikes you as the greatest change in why guys watch football?

Andelman: “Good question. I think that the dramatic increase in video quality — high def and even 3D television — has only heightened our connection to action happening hundreds or even thousands of miles away. The action is so real in HD, it really is like being there.”

Speaking of technology, where does social media fit in?

Andelman: “Similar to the rapid speed of HD, social media’s connection to football means instant community with fellow fans, whether we’re all checking in at the stadium on Foursquare or while watching on TV via GetGlue or Facebook. We can share our view of a bad call or a thrilling reception with a million strangers at the touch of a smartphone.”

Smart guy. He also did his homework on this project uncovering:

  • The fan who loved the Colts so much that he followed them from Baltimore to Indianapolis;
  • The Packers fan known as “The Brow”;
  • The Bucs fan who got so frustrated with the team’s losing ways he broke a Soloflex bench by pounding on it with nothing but his fists;
  • The Dolphins fan who postponed cancer surgery so as not to interfere with watching the team on TV;
  • The Giants fan who follows his team on the road and throws regular home game tailgate parties for 80 of his closest friends

Andelman picks apart the male psyche the way Tom Brady and Peyton Manning read defenses. Why Men Watch Football: A Report from the Couch is worth a read now or even after the season. It’s available at Amazon.