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How to Benefit from Social Media and Online Marketing

By Marilyn McLeod

In any economy, nobody makes any money unless somebody sells something. This may or may not be your favorite subject. There are many ways to approach letting the right people know what you do and there are many ways to get new customers

I suggest the first thing to do is consider what kind of new customers you want. In fact, go back even one more step and be honest with yourself about what kind of work you want to attract. How do you really want to spend each day? It's your 24 hours. If your marketing brings in customers who expect you to carry out an array of tasks you don't enjoy, or keep a schedule that doesn't fit your own needs, maybe it's time to reconsider your product offerings or your role within your organization.

Having been involved in Internet technology since the early days, I've watched it grow and I've helped my clients use computers and the Internet to make progress in their small businesses. In this economy, the various forms of online marketing, including social media marketing, make a lot of sense. If you can wrap your arms around the most important social media networks and come up with a strategy that doesn't take a lot of your time, you can get great exposure and be in intimate contact with your target market, using available online tools that are often free...that's the current promise of this marketing method.

Assuming you've defined your ideal product offering, your ideal role, and your ideal customer, how does a professional begin to approach this sometimes overwhelming world of social media?

Every day there are more social networking opportunities. Blogs are adding social networking components. New social portals are being launched. Sites like Twitter are morphing from reporting what someone ate for lunch into performing a vital role in customer relations for companies like Zappos. Unlike Facebook, the search function in Twitter is available to the public. Monitor what your customers are saying about you at search.twitter.com, and respond from within your own free Twitter account.

Consider adding the following social media sites to your marketing toolkit:

  • Website: This is still the foundation of your online marketing strategy. How do you want to be seen, and what do you offer? It doesn't have to be a huge or fancy website, but it does have to reflect who you are as a professional. Be very clear about what you offer to your ideal customer so people who visit know whom to refer to you.
  • Blog: If you can write at least 300 words a week, consider a blog. There are many free or inexpensive hosted versions, including www.blogger.com, www.wordpress.com, www.typepad.com, and www.moveabletype.com. This is where you let people know who you are as a person and how you see the world. What words of wisdom or advice can you offer? What questions do you have for your audience? Allow comments (you can screen them) and have a dialog with your target audience online.
  • LinkedIn: You've probably received invitations to connect with others on LinkedIn. If you don't yet have your own profile, consider setting one up. Be strategic about what you put in your profile. You can choose privacy settings to suit your style and comfort level. Visit the Answers section regularly. Show up as an expert in your field by answering questions as you can and asking questions that can help you in your work.
  • Facebook: Facebook is moving more and more into the professional as well as personal realm. If you don't want to set up a personal profile, you can just set up a fan page for your company (see the smaller-type link "To create a page for a celebrity, band or business, click here" under the large "Sign Up" button).
  • Twitter: Twitter forces brevity (140 characters maximum per post), so link to your blog where you can give more information about your message. Try twhirl.org on your desktop or Tweetie on your iPhone to manage your account and send tweets. URL shorteners are often used in tweets to save characters.

There are also sites like www.friendfeed.com that allow you to aggregate your many social media accounts. Upload your photo to www.gravatar.com to help sites automatically display your photo along with your comments.

Each social media site has a slightly different culture, so become acquainted with the site and its members before jumping in. Be sensitive to over-selling. People don't like to be sold, especially in the social media world. They like to connect with you, get to know who you are. They like to share ideas. Offer what you know; think about how you can help people. You can always link back to your own website or blog, but don't make a big deal of it. Be more interested in connecting and helping than in selling.

Once you have a presence in the online marketing world and you're comfortable with your routine, start thinking about how people find you in the search engines. What do they type into the search field that leads them to your website or blog? Some search terms are more competitive, and with the increasing volume of traffic on the Internet, it's increasingly useful to focus on "long-tail" search terms. For instance, instead of relying on the term "coach" (you may have people looking for Coach handbags, or coach transportation), consider "executive coach Albany New York." There are several ways to research search terms, among them freekeywords.wordtracker.com.

There is always more to learn, so don't wait until you know everything before you jump in. We all learn as we go, and in this new social media world, we're all creating the future together.

Marilyn McLeod is the author of 7 Steps to Success in Business & in Life: During Recession or Recovery to be published in January 2010. She coaches small business owners in personal management skills and social media. Contact Marilyn and learn more about her at www.coachmarilyn.com.



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