Social Media Explorer recently wrote "How to Get Started with Visual Content Marketing" and lists visual content marketing tools to create compelling visual content. 

Check out their tips and the great tools for creating effective visuals on the go or on the desktop, no designer required!

Does size matter when it comes to followers? According to a recent SMB social media study from Vocus and Duct Tape Marketing, it does not.

Two in three SMBs favor quality over quantity. 40% prefer very active, engaged followers and only one in four small to mid-size businesses think the number of followers is more important than level of engagement.

The main challenge that SMBs face is the perception that social media is free. Like any other marketing initiative, social media takes time and resources. 

The study shows that SMBs are active in social media, they see its value, and they measure progress through connected business outcomes.

From the study:
  • 77% of SMBs say that social media accounts for 25% or more of their total marketing effort
  • 87% of SMBs say social media has been somewhat helpful or helped a great deal
  • The top two measurement metrics are 1) traffic (76%) and 2) # of new customers
"Path to influence.  One of the most fascinating findings of the study was the divergent views of online influence. For example, 40% of SMBs prefer a smaller but highly engaged audience, while 27% would prefer a huge following with little engagement. What’s important to note is the 27% that prefer a large following are also more likely to report social media has been very helpful to their efforts." 

Make sure to use the same profile picture across your social media profiles. That way people recognize you between LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other networks. 

Consistency is key and helps build your profile as an expert in your field.
Small business owners are busy running their business and handling most tasks from operations to sales. Here is a quick way to stay on top of your company, your competitors and your industry. 

Set up a Google Alert for your company, competition, and industry keywords. You can specify to receive an email when it occurs or get a daily or weekly update. This allows you to stay on top of recent industry news and monitor what is being said about your company

Looking to monitor social media mentions? Another site to track company mentions in the social sphere is Social Mention. You can set up alerts similar to the Google Alerts and stay notified!

Small businesses often have more work than resources and less budget for marketing and PR. Here are some PR tips for small businesses to build on. 

Think local and build a media list in your area. Check Patch and get to know your local journalist. Become a resource. Be sure to publicize any local events and charitable activities. 

Network. Join your local industry organization and get involved. Offer to speak or sponsor an event. 

Offer helpful advice to customers and prospects. Start blogging. Write an FAQ page and answer customers' top questions. Make sure the blog is included on your web site. Wordpress is an easy to use system.

Go social. Set up a free LinkedIn company page. Add products and services. Link your blog to the page. Add a Facebook Page and start a Twitter feed for the company. 

Listen, Monitor and Engage. Check Social Mention and set up Gmail alerts for industry keywords including your company. 

Find out what people are saying in your industry, about competitors, about you! Respond and resonate with people and join in the conversation. 

What other PR tips would you like to see?

Not sure if social media is right for your business?
Don’t know where to start or what to do?

Take this challenge. In 30 days, you will determine if your company is cut out for social media.

You may find yourself asking What is social media all about?

Social Media Surrounds Us

Social media is a hot topic these days. Your friends are using it, your employees are using it, even some of your competitors are using it.

CNN and ESPN broadcasters ask you to become a fan on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Business associates are sending you LinkedIn requests. People are rating movies on Netflix and products on Amazon. Even small businesses list their Facebook fan pages on their signs as you drive through town.

Social media seems to be everywhere.

Do you at times wonder “everyone else is doing it, but why should we?”

Good question.

It might not make sense for your company to utilize social media as part of your integrated marketing strategy. It all depends on many things.

What are your goals? Who do you sell to and where do they seek out your kind of products or services?

Social media does not cost a lot of money, but the time commitment and resources that it takes to build a social media program can be demanding.

Here is a 30 day test to see if you can successfully incorporate social media into your marketing and PR mix.

Week 1 – Fish Where the Fish Are

Chris Brogan, a social media expert, say to Fish Where the Fish Are. And he’s right. Where did your customers find you? Do you know? If not, ask them.

Your customers can give you a wealth of information with a simple survey. Offer a free giveaway or chance to win a larger prize and ask them a few questions.

Do they belong to associations? Do they go online to forums, message boards and industry blogs? Which search engines do they use? Do they still use the yellow pages or do they go online? Put together a list of 5 – 10 questions for your customers. Send out a free survey and analyze their responses.

Have your sales and customer service teams ask where call-ins heard about you (if they don’t already.) Put together a list of these responses and the survey answers and you should be getting a good idea where your customers are finding you.

Week 2 & 3 – Listen

Start slow. Listen. Go where your customers are online. If you don’t know, ask them.

Start a spreadsheet of forums, message boards, industry blogs, etc.

Take time to set up some listening posts about your company and industry.

Set up news alerts for your brand and industry keywords on Google, Yahoo
and Bing.

Look up your brand and keywords on Social Mention and Twitter Search. Set up alerts – Social Mention has different tabs, so you can set up an alert for each category.

Search blogs through Technorati and Google Blog Search.

Bookmark LinkedIn Answers under the appropriate categories or set up the RSS feed in a Reader and check daily. 

Look up any blog comments about your company or industry through BackType.

Yacktrack lets you search for comments on your content from various sources, such as Blogger, Digg, FriendFeed, Stumbleupon, and WordPress blogs.

Use boardtracker.com to get instant alerts from threads citing your name. Boardreader and Big Boards are other tools that work similar to this one.

Use iGoogle or Netvibes to set up a dashboard with these sites and RSS feeds.

Now that you have set up your listening posts, check them in an RSS feed a few times a week.

This will help you get an idea about what people are saying about you, your competitors, your industry.

You will be able to track trends and hot topics and will be ready to take the next step in social media.

Week 4 – Comment

Once you set up your listening posts, schedule 1-2 hours a week to monitor and comment on any relevant blogs, articles, etc.

Answer at least one LinkedIn question in each of the categories that applies to your business. Make sure you have a free company page set up in LinkedIn.

If people are talking about your brand in a good or bad way, respond directly to them and offer your help.

Build trust and relationships. You may be surprised how helpful the social media community can be.

End of the Month

By now you should have an idea of what social media is about.

Hopefully by doing this challenge you will learn more about your business, your customers and yourself. Social media does not cost a lot of money, but it sure involves lots of time.

In 30 days, if you find that you do not have the time or resources to do these basic monitoring tasks, you might not be ready for a full social media strategy.

If you are able to do these monitoring tasks, then you are ready to take the next steps in social media which will be covered in the next post.

I remember when I set up my first Twitter account a few years ago. I registered, signed in and then stared at a blank screen thinking, “now what?” I was a solo marketer at a small technology company and was trying to keep up with social media as well as my traditional marketing role.

In the years since creating my Twitter account, I can say first and foremost that it has offered me personal and professional development.

I was able to find a community of B2B marketing and PR professionals who were supportive and offered help, feedback and opinions. It was refreshing to find a group of individuals who were so supportive.

I was also able to listen and monitor prospects at trade shows and find and follow edtech leaders, a target market of my job at the time. By listening to this group as well as learning about their daily struggles, I felt that I better understood their perspectives as customers and teachers.

As a parent, I had this group of teachers available to ask questions and get feedback about education. One example when my sensitive five year old daughter (in kindergarten at the time), was shown The Wizard of Oz without my knowledge. She had nightmares for two weeks. I received a lot of support and feedback and advice as to what to do as far as approaching the teacher and school.

In addition to finding communities relevant to my work life, I was able to find people with similar interests. My youngest daughter has food allergies and I had trouble after her diagnosis getting support and advice. Friends and family tried to help, but I have had to educate them as well and they just didn’t understand the constant stresses of coping with food allergies. I have found tremendous support from fellow food allergy moms and dads on Twitter. It is a relief to find other people facing the same challenges in life and to share our experiences.

I have also been able to reach people directly that I would have never in a million years been able to reach had I gone through traditional channels. On the fun side, I asked Stewart Cink for golf advice for my golf enthusiast father and he sent me advice that I then included with his birthday gift.

I was able to 
research and poll people using Twitter and LinkedIn for a project – just like with a focus group. And Twitter can be used to help with your job search.

When Atlanta ran out of gas, I used Twitter and the hashtag #atlgas to find gas.

The applications are endless. People are on Twitter right now, ready to help. Why aren’t you?

A quick LinkedIn tip that I am surprised many people don’t use – when sending a request to connect, add a personal note. 

Even if you don’t personally know the person, telling them that you read their blog or follow them on Twitter and find their content useful will improve your chances of connecting.

Small businesses are learning that they should be in social media sites, but not sure why or how to do it. Here is a brief explanation of social media and its importance.