Execute a Survey or Poll

In an earlier article in this series, we covered using your social media networks to get informal opinions from your followers and friends. Now, let’s cover how to solicit more structured input. There are a number of ways to create and post “official” polls or surveys, none of which involve getting a paper survey printed, and sending it out via snail mail to your followers. Here are some options that are much faster and less expensive:

  • Google Docs. Create a simple survey in Google Docs (docs.google.com) and get your results in spreadsheet format – for free! You can even brand the survey with your own colors and logo.
  • Survey Monkey. If you want to email out your survey, check with Survey Monkey at http://surveymonkey.com. You can create surveys quickly and easily, and aggregate answers from up to 100 respondents for free. Get more surveys and more answers for a small monthly fee.
  • Facebook Polls. Facebook makes it really easy to add polls or surveys to your Facebook profile or page. Just go to http://facebook.com/survey to be walked through the free process.
  • WordPress Widgets. There are a number of WordPress widgets and plug-ins that can be added easily to your WordPress blog or website. Check out WP-Polls, Poll Code, Snap Poll, and Vizu.

Polls are perfect for the following circumstances:

  • You want to increase engagement among your followers. Polls are a perfect way to gather information and use it to further discussion. Most people don’t just want to weigh in with their position; they want to discuss it, too!  If you need a reminder, consider all the Facebook posturing in support of your friends’ political candidate of choice.
  • You want to use current events to spark conversation. Does your audience think the latest Google search algorithm changes will affect their business? Do your blog readers agree with the experts’ national college football rankings? Ask them, and you’ll establish yourself as an expert by hosting the conversation.
  • You want input from your followers and volume of responses is more important than speed. If you are in the process of developing a new product, you can find out if people would prefer an audio, video, written, or multimedia product. If you’re thinking of visiting a few cities on tour, you can see where your pockets of fans reside.
  • You want to gather demographic information about your followers. Want to know how often your followers golf, how much money they spend on equipment, and what their biggest challenges are? A survey is a great way to solicit that type of information.

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Cut Through Customer Support

Make a choice: Would you rather spend the December holidays with your crazy Uncle Bob the roadkill taxidermist attached to your hip, or spend the afternoon trying to troubleshoot your computer modem by phone with your cable company? If you’re like most people, you’d ask Bob to pull out the photos of the lifelike armadillos. Let’s face it; these days, customer support can be a pain in the rear, not to mention a huge time suck.

Thank goodness, you can turn to your social network to help you out. Here’s how:

  • Tweet first. There are a number of major companies, including Zappos.com and Comcast, who have customer service reps following twitter streams and searching for their brand name in search of unhappy customers. If you can post your issue in 140 characters or less, go for it! Hint: make sure you use the company name – spelled correctly – in your tweet, and employ hashtags where warranted. In other words: “My #HP OfficeJet 5600 won’t print from my MacBook Pro. Anyone have any ideas?
  • Take it to Facebook. Many companies have branded Facebook pages where you’ll receive a personalized response within hours, or even minutes. That way you can go about your business instead of sitting on the phone, frantically working your way through the automated telephone tree. Hint: Post a message on their wall rather than trying to contact them via Facebook message. The public aspect of your plea for help will ignite a faster response.
  • Try their website.  Bypass the 800 number and email in favor of a live chat. You can get a live person immediately (or within a minute or two) instead of playing hurry up and wait on the phone. Live chat not available? Try the email contact form. You may have to wait 24 hours for a response, but you can use that time productively.
  • Record a video. If all else fails, record a video and post it to YouTube. You never know what a visual plea for help, or a bad review, will do for cutting through the red tape. Be calm, though, and leave room for a response; if all you do is spazz out, they’ll just write you off as a nut.
  • Record a screenshot or screen video to demonstrate your issue.  I’ve found this to be tremendously helpful, especially with software issues.  Nothing is more frustrating than to describe your problem and hear “well, it works on our end”.  The video evidence often reveals what the true problem is.  Use a tool like Jing which can save your captured video and gives you a hyperlink you can share on social media.

The key here is to take control of your own time rather than letting someone else determine your destiny. Don’t let “them” tell you that you must sit on hold for 45 minutes before you get a living, breathing person to listen to your problems. Save time and take it online.

The post Cut Through Customer Support appeared first on Ken Ivey.

Share Important Announcements

You’re changing the name of your podcast. You just gave birth to a baby girl. You’re heading to Los Angeles for an upcoming trade show. You are releasing a new online product. All these are perfect opportunities to use your social media networks to help spread the word far and wide.

When you have something that you want to share with the widest possible audience, leverage your networks – all of them. Here are some tips to make sure your news gets the attention it deserves.

1. Don’t be afraid to post it more than once. Particularly on Twitter, stuff gets lost in the noise. If people don’t catch it the second you post it, it may be gone forever. Use a tool like Tweriod.com to see when most of your followers are online, and post during those times. And post it a couple of times over the course of a day or so. Those who already read the original post will just delete it without thinking twice about it. 

2. Create an opportunity to connect. Turn a newsy announcement into a way to engage with your audience. Instead of just saying “My new product launches next week,” say, “Check out this sneak peek of my new eBook that I’m launching next week. Let me know what you think!” Or, “My daughter is here – here’s her birth photo. Guess her birth weight and the person who’s closest will win a free 30 minute consultation with me.” People are looking for new and different. Give it to them.

3. Talk about the news before it happens. Telling people about what you have in progress not only helps them feel engaged, it also serves as a subversive way to promote yourself without sounding promote-y. Say, “Just finished the last chapter for my eBook. Have you signed up for early notification?” Or, “I’m interviewing so-and-so next week for my next online class. Do you have any burning questions you’d like answered?”

4. Interconnect your social media networks. Place an announcement on Twitter that sends your followers over to your blog to read more. Record an announcement on YouTube and then post it on Facebook. The stronger the interconnections between the spokes of your network, the stronger the overall network.

As an aside, it’s also important to note that with recent changes in the search engines’ algorithms (the mathematical equations they use to determine if your website shows up in the search engine’s results for a given query) the recommendations above are now considered “Social Signals” – and may give your website an unexpected boost!

So, get a jump on press releases and publicity, and don’t sit back and wait for the newspapers to find you. Instead, you can do some promotion yourself by leveraging the members of your network.

The post Share Important Announcements appeared first on Ken Ivey.

Take a Quick Break

Whether you’re working in an office or at home, taking regular breaks is essential for your mental and physical well-being. In the traditional office, you could head to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee, or head down to the proverbial water cooler. But when you work for yourself, taking a break to join into humanity is a little more involved. You can get in the car and drive to Starbucks for a quick latte, but that takes time and money.

You could call up a friend to check in, but who talks on the phone anymore?  Instead, here are a handful of things you can do to take a much-needed mental vacation, all from the comfort of your own home, all via your social media networks:

  • Head over to Facebook and see whose birthday it is using the notification feature. Then leave them a birthday message on their wall (time: 5 minutes)
  • Catch up on your favorite non-work-related blogs. Or read a few of the industry movers and shakers and leave them a thoughtful comment, linking back to your own site. (10 minutes)
  • Post a question of the day (hashtag #QOTD) related to your niche, but in a “just for fun” sense. For instance, “What’s the last ___ you purchased for your ___?” This is a fun way to engage your Twitter followers, as well as gather some informal intelligence. (5 minutes)
  • Yes, go ahead and succumb to the Farmville or Plants vs. Zombies pull and log in to play for a limited time. Set an egg timer next to your computer and stop when time’s up. (15 minutes)
  • Check out the latest videos in your niche (did you know you can subscribe to other video creators’ YouTube channels?). Leave a comment or create a video response. (15 minutes)
  • Log into LinkedIn and update your status. Then check in on some of your groups and see what the hot topics are. Offer your expertise where appropriate. (15 minutes)
  • Do the same with Facebook. Visit some of the groups you belong to and leave questions on the wall, comment on others’ posts, and leave links where possible. (15 minutes)
  • See who’s commented on your blog lately and visit their websites, leaving comments and thanking them for visiting you. Reciprocity goes a long way to establishing relationships. (10 minutes)
  • Go to the iTunes store and see who hosts the leading podcasts in your industry. Visit their blogs and start establishing a relationship with these movers and shakers. (5 minutes)

Any of these ideas takes less time than a trip to the local Starbucks counter – or a trip to the water cooler, for that matter! Use your break time wisely and you’ll receive the double benefits of refreshment and audience engagement.

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Find Resources

If you’re in search of a great graphic designer, you may want to skip Elance and go directly to Twitter, do not pass go. Finding recommended vendors and freelancers for your business may be as easy as asking the hundreds of folks in your social media network who they recommend. Here’s a breakdown of ways to find trusted contractors, by social media outlet:

  1. Google Plus Local. With the recent merging of Google Plus and Google Maps you can now find nearly any type of service imaginable, along with critical contact information and most importantly – online reviews.  Depending on your settings, you’ll find “personalized results” which will give more “weight” to reviews from friends in your “circles”.
  2. LinkedIn. One of the most powerful elements of LinkedIn is the “recommendations” feature. You can write, read, and request recommendations from others in your network. It may take a little legwork, but you can use this feature to find a great copywriter, and read what others have to say about him or her. Think of it as a Yelp for people.
  3. Twitter. While you’re missing out on the depth of information available on LinkedIn, you can get instantaneous responses. For instance, tweet “Looking for a great online bookkeeper” and you should get a bunch of responses within minutes. Give more credence to those that come from inside your network, though, as often a request for referrals will generate automated responses from a spammer. It looks like it comes from one of your friends, but it may actually be just an ad.
  4. Facebook. You can post requests for referrals, just like on Twitter, and you can also search for people with those keywords in their profiles. Beware, though; just because someone is listed as “Penelope Bookkeeper” doesn’t mean they’re an expert. You could also post your request in groups that are associated with the topic (post a request for a logo designer on a graphic artists’ Facebook group wall, for example).
  5. YouTube. It might seem a little strange to put out a call for resources via video, but why not? Especially if you have a significant following, you could get a tremendous response. Added benefit: If the project you have in mind has a visual aspect, you can demonstrate it right on the video (think office organization, website overhaul, kitchenette remodel).

Even if fourteen people recommend the same graphic designer, make sure to do your due diligence. Get a written quote and scope of work, ask for a list of projects completed, and confirm that that person will be doing your project personally, not outsourcing to another. With these tips in mind, you should be able to find great outsourcing resources at the click of a mouse.

The post Find Resources appeared first on Ken Ivey.

See What People Are Talking About

Large corporations spend millions of dollars, prowling the streets, seeing what the trends in fashion, music, and culture are. They rely on feedback from companies like Gallup, the Nielsen Ratings, and American Consumer Opinion to see what’s hot and what’s not. In a small business, you don’t have the same level of resources. But that’s okay – you can get your own “feet on the street” feedback, quickly and easily, using your social media networks. Here are some of the tools you can use to see what’s hot, right now:

Twitter Trends. Go to http://search.twitter.com/ and right below the search box, you’ll see a list of trending topics (as of this writing, the trending topics include #ImSickOf, #YammouniFollow, Windows Live Messenger, Happy Election Day, and TVA ). If there’s a topic you want to track, you can click on the name and subscribe to the RSS feed to keep constantly updated on a trending topic. 

Hashtags. If you want to follow a particular topic (“internet marketing,” “titans,” etc.) via Twitter, you can simply follow the hashtag (#) associated with that subject. You can also subscribe to the RSS feed to be notified whenever new tweets on that topic are posted.

Facebook and LinkedIn Groups. It’s a little more difficult to see what’s trending on Facebook or LinkedIn, but you can see what groups are growing and what topics are hot. Do a search on either site for results, and join groups that look interesting and pertinent to your business. You can receive messages directly to your email inbox or opt to log in to your account to read. Either way is a great tactic for keeping tabs on what people in your niche are talking about.

Yahoo! and Google Groups. Go to groups.yahoo.com or groups.google.com to view thousands upon thousands of groups for interests as varied as recycling, Santa Clara University alums, and Justin Bieber fans. Join the ones appropriate for your interests, browse topics, and see suggestions at http://custom.yahoo.com/bestofyahoogroups/.

YouTube “Most Viewed.” Head over to http://www.youtube.com/videos?feature=mh to see the most viewed videos of the day. You can even see top results by category (Education, Howto & Style, Nonprofits & Activism, News & Politics, Comedy, People & Blogs, etc.) The results may surprise you!

Stumbleupon, Technorati, Alltop. Check out any of these blog aggregators to see what others find interesting, read-worthy, or titillating. You can see hot topics, trending news, and just plain weird stuff.

As you can see, no need to hire a beat reporter to tell you what’s happening in your target market. You can easily track it all from your computer – no reporter’s notebook required.

The post See What People Are Talking About appeared first on Ken Ivey.

Get Fast Feedback

Everything online happens at the speed of light. Decisions that used to take weeks or months to make are now a matter of mere minutes or seconds. There is no time for a group consensus or “sleeping on it.” But with your social media network, you can still get input from a number of people, quickly. There are literally millions of people on-hand, ready and able to give you feedback in the moment.

For instance, want to know if the font on your homepage is too small? Send a tweet with the page link and ask what the general public thinks. Wondering which header graphic better conveys your business? Post them both on your Facebook page and ask for input.

The benefits of turning to your social media network:

  • You’ll get an interesting cross-section of respondents: Friends from high school, curious passers-by, coworkers.
  • It’s fast. Depending on the size of your network, you could have responses within minutes.
  • It’s free. You don’t have to pay a penny for the input.
  • It’s informal. No need to prepare a five-paragraph overview, ten-slide Powerpoint presentation, or other background information. Just ask and wait for input.
  • It’s objective. The people you’re asking have little or no vested interest in the outcome.

Of course, this method is better for some queries than others. There are drawbacks:

  • You have no control over the responses or who they come from. You could get input from people who aren’t part of your target audience, or who offer goofy suggestions.
  • By soliciting opinions, you can make people feel like they have ownership in the process. If you don’t take their advice, they can feel slighted.
  • You make some of the inner workings of your business public.

As a result, soliciting fast feedback via social media networks is best for the following situations:

  • When the decision is relatively minor. You don’t want to ask the general public what you should do about selling your business, or responding to a law suit, or customer service issues.
  • When the results will be public anyway. If the decision is behind-the-scenes, keep it there. Our examples above – font size, header graphics – are public anyway. Don’t post private information, or anything that might breach confidence.
  • When you need a variety of opinions from different people. If you need feedback from a certain segment, you’re better off emailing them directly rather than putting out a public call for feedback.

Your social media networks can serve as your own personal focus groups. Asking their opinion can also make them feel closer to your business, and part of the process – both good things!

The post Get Fast Feedback appeared first on Ken Ivey.

Get Answers to Your Burning Questions

It used to be that all the answers to your questions could be found in online article directories. Then, when they became overrun with junk and advertisements, Wikipedia became the guru of choice. But even Wikipedia won’t give you the answer to every question you have. Sometimes the information is too arcane, or sometimes you don’t want the facts; you want an opinion. So what better place to turn to than social media?

Social media is great for the following types of questions:

  1. Opinions. Heading to San Antonio and want to know where to find authentic Tex-Mex? Wikipedia won’t help you and Google is full of sponsored ads. So instead of doing a fruitless search, post a query on your Facebook page, and within hours your friends will have chimed in with a variety of suggestions, depending on your appetite, allergies, and budget.
  2. When you want an opinion or suggestion, ask your social media network. They tend to enjoy giving help and assistance, and the resulting information may be more appropriate to your circumstance than a review written by a nameless, faceless entity.
  3. New technology questions. Your brand-new video camera won’t boot up after the last charge. You could spend an hour or two on the manufacturer’s website, searching the FAQ pages for an answer. You could Google the problem, but all the answers you get are for the previous model. So you send out a plea for help from the “Twitter-verse”, and within minutes you have a handful of suggestions, as well as a site to go to for expert help.
  4. Search engines may not help much with tech questions because there either aren’t enough answers out there to make it to the first page of the search results, or there are too many conflicting answers – and you’re not sure who to trust.  Sometimes, the resulting pages are all scams, junk sites, or sponsored posts for services that will fix your camera for a small fee. That’s why you can often save time by asking your network first.
  5. References and Referrals. Looking for a great handyman in Nashville can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. You can go through the Yellow Pages or check online, but are any of these guys any good? To know for sure you need a personal reference or referral, and that’s where your social media network can really help out. Post a Facebook query or tweet it out there, and you’ll get answers that will steer you in the right direction.

We often think of social media as a way to just hang out with our friends and colleagues, but it is actually one of the greatest examples of the wisdom of crowds. Take advantage of it, and save time, too.

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Is Social Media a Time Suck?

When many people think “social media,” the automatic response is “waste of time.” Facebook is the place you go to play Farmville while your boss isn’t looking. YouTube is where you head when you have five minutes to spare and you need a good laugh so you watch the “Jackass” video a few more times. Twitter is where you end up when you want to commiserate about the Titans latest trade decisions, or to catch up on Real Housewives of New Jersey gossip.

Is it possible that these sinkholes of productivity could actually save you time? Yes, and in this article series I’m going to show you ten ways to leverage social media to make your life better, complete your tasks more quickly, and have more time for the things that matter (like a Plants vs. Zombies marathon – just kidding!).

Read on for ways to use social media for good, not just for gossip.

#1: Connect with Customers

These days, business is all about the relationships. We buy a car from the guy our neighbor’s brother recommended. We hire the contractor our mother’s accountant used. We go see the movies that everyone on Twitter talks about. So finding ways to take business relationships beyond transactional is a sure-fire way to cement yourself in the minds of your customers.

Social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and the like – are all ways to connect with people. And if you can use these tools to establish and enhance your relationships with your audience, you’ve got a leg up on your competition. Here are a few examples:

  • The yarn store owner who tweets her new customer to ask how the new sweater is coming along…
  • The car salesman who leaves a link for $10 off an oil change on a customer’s Facebook wall…
  • The homeschool curriculum vendor who records a short video showing how to set up a classroom in the home in a back bedroom…
  • The golf instructor who holds a Skype party during the Masters…

The possibilities are as vast as the world of Internet business. You will notice some similarities between the ideas above:

  1. They’re relevant. They are directly applicable to the niche or industry you’re in (the golf instructor, for instance, isn’t sending out oil change coupons; the yarn store owner isn’t hosting a Masters chat).
  2. They’re personal. Each interaction connects with the audience in a manner beyond a simple “buy my stuff” way.
  3. They’re useful. Each interaction provides value to the recipient. In some cases, it’s a dollar savings (the coupon); in others, it’s informational (the video and the sweater inquiry). And even the Skype party is useful in terms of entertainment. The recipient is better off for having taken part in the interaction.
  4. They’re free. They don’t cost anything on the part of the person reaching out.
  5. They’re relatively low on the time-investment scale. A tweet or Facebook post takes seconds; the video, a bit longer, but actually saves time in the long run as the vendor is answering a question she receives over and over again. The Skype party takes place during an event the golf instructor was going to watch anyway.

In short, social media provides ways to reach your customers on an intimate level, quickly and inexpensively. People want to be treated as individuals, not as numbers. And social media provides a way to do that without spending your life on the phone.

The post Is Social Media a Time Suck? appeared first on Ken Ivey.

How to Set Up a Google Plus Local Review in 5 Easy Steps

UPDATE: Google is now merging Maps, Places and Google+ into what they’re calling “Google+ Local”, so all features can be found in one place.

Google Plus

Worried about the sudden changes Google has made to Google Places?  Wondering how the new Google Plus Local format will affect those all-important business reviews?  Well, you can relax.  Google Plus Local is actually a great change – and one that will enable customers to leave even more comprehensive, detailed, and accurate reviews than before.  What’s more is that Google has made the whole process super simple, even for those completely unfamiliar with the Google Plus user interface.  Want the details?  Here are instructions for how to set up a Google Plus Local review in five easy steps:

Create a Google Plus account.  You must have your own Google Plus account in order to leave reviews.  However, you can now leave reviews from either a personal Google Plus profile or a business Google Plus page account.

Visit the Google Plus Local page of the business you want to review.  This is simple: log in to your Google Plus account and search the left hand side of the screen for a vertical tab menu.  See the “Local” tab?  Click on that to access the Google Plus Local search.  Once you are on the appropriate page, you click on the “Write a Review” button in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

Rate the business.  The new Google Plus Local rating system – called the Zagat scale – will ask that you rate the business from 0 to 3 on a number of different aspects related to the particular business you are reviewing (food and service categories when grading restaurants, for example).  The numbers you enter are then calculated according to the Zagat scale formula in order to deliver an overall rating of 0 to 30.  This score is also broken down into specific categories so that page visitors can accurately assess different aspects of the business – including its strengths and weaknesses.

Write a review.  Underneath the Zagat scale rating section is a text box in which you can write your business review.  Take your time and be sure to provide plenty of detail, as well as specific tips and suggestions you would recommend potential customers follow when dealing with the business.  Also, be sure to go over your review once you’ve finished it, in order to add any missed information and edit mistakes.

Publish your review.  Once you are sure that you have rated and reviewed the business to your satisfaction, it is time to publish the review.  Click on the “Publish” button underneath the review text box to publish it to the business’ Google Plus Local page.  The review will be listed under your profile, and anyone who sees the review, including the business itself, will be able to check out your profile page.

Take advantage of everything Google+ Local has to offer! Visit http://kenivey.com for details.

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Client Love

"As a small business owner, I knew how critical visibility on the web was, but didn't know where to start. Ken Ivey at MidTN Technology worked with me to upgrade my website... and taught me many ways I could get my business noticed on the internet - that I didn't know existed. I fully recommend MidTN Technology for not only the expertise, but also for the personal service and professionalism."

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