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While the buzz over Google+ has certainly dropped dramatically in the months since Google launched the service, one of the more eagerly-anticipated features has been Google+ pages for business. Yesterday, Google formally launched Google+ Brand Pages.

Although the service suffered a few hiccups yesterday and wasn’t completely available for all users, by late afternoon it was up and running for everyone. We set up a VantagePoint page (please add us to your circles!), and captured the step-by-step process it took us to do so.

Here’s how to set up a Google+ brand page for your company:

1. Log in to your Google account, presumably one that you already have a Google+ account for. (It appears you cannot, at present, use an existing Google profile you may have created for your brand or company.) IMPORTANT: for the near term, you will be the “owner” of this profile, and it will be linked to your Google account. Others will not be able to edit this profile until Google opens up brand pages for multiple editing. Keep this in mind as you proceed.

2. Visit http://plus.google.com/pages/create.

3. You will now see the “Create a page” screen. Now it’s time to get started.

4. On the left side, choose the category that you wish your company to belong to. For now, we’re going to assume you will be a “company, institution or organization.”  Unless you have a major brand or a local walk-in store, this is probably the most appropriate category to choose. (If you roll over the category types, you’ll get a brief explanation to help you decide.)

5. When you choose your category, the right side of your screen will populate with several fields for you to fill in, including company name, website, business type, and page visibility. Fill in the appropriate blanks.

6. After a few seconds, you will see the beginning of your company’s Google+ page.

7. Enter your tagline. You can enter as many words as you want, but only the first 10 words will be displayed on your profile.

8. Add a profile photo — or a logo. Clicking on the “change profile photo” will bring you to a screen where you can import and crop an image.

9. When you’ve updated the tagline and the profile photo, click “continue.” You’ll next have the option to tell your circles about your new page from your personal Google+ account. Go ahead — or you can wait until later as well — and click “Finish” when you’re done.

10. You’ll now be taken to your official Google+ brand page. There are a number of options here to get you started in sharing, promoting, and linking to your new page. One of the nice things that Google has done is make it easy to switch between using the page as “you” or as “your company” by clicking on the little arrow next to your profile photo/logo.

11. You’ll also notice your stream changes appropriately — instead of friends, family, and following, you’ll see links for customers, VIPs, and team members.

Spend a few minutes exploring Google+ brand pages. Your first instinct will be to start adding folks to your circles. However, it appears you currently can’t — that is, until they add you first. (All the more reason to add VantagePoint to your Google+ circle!) We’re not sure if this is temporary, or if it’s Google’s way of making sure brands don’t overwhelm the general public.

Time will tell whether Google+ will replace or merely supplement Facebook and Twitter (or disappear entirely, as several other Google properties have). But for now, we think it’s important to take advantage of a social media service directly connected to the world’s largest search engine.

Wednesday night I attended the 2011 Marketing Forecast event at Charlotte’s Uptown EpiCentre. Although the local panel of marketing pros stopped short of sketching out key trends for the coming year, they did offer bits of useful advice. Here are some takeaways from my little black book:

  • Social media is a tool, not a toy. The “gee whiz” factor is fading, and effective marketers know that social media must be used as a business tool to justify the commitment of time and financial resources. The good news is that technology has enabled connections and relationships with customers that weren’t possible before. For example, some companies are using twitter to answer customer questions quickly – versus having people dial an 800 number and go through a frustrating phone tree.

  • Talk with customers and prospects, not at them. Whether employing social media or more traditional channels, it’s high time to engage your community with great content. Let your target market become part of your narrative.  Get them to participate. Transform communication into conversation – and don’t just talk about yourself.

  • Market aggressively even if your budget is limited. Pulling back on marketing during the present economy is not the best move. As one panelist put it, “budget conservatively – market aggressively.” That said, it makes good sense to pilot ideas and understand the potential before making a bigger investment.  From a resource standpoint, sharpen the focus on your core mission and bring in outside help if they can provide superior marketing expertise.

  • Creativity solves problems even when budget cannot. Be creative with what you’ve got. See what solutions your team members can come up with on their own.  Maybe there’s a whole new way to tackle obstacles that stand in the way of forward progress. Examples might be creating a special event to build prospect interest and awareness – or analyzing your customer data more thoroughly to explore buying patterns and new marketing insights.

Let’s get real. A 2011 marketing forecast it’s not – but street-smart advice is always welcome.

What does it take to be retweeted? According to a recent article in Public Relations Tactics, 70 percent of retweets contain a link. Including a link is one way to increase the likelihood that your message will be retweeted. Another way to increase your visibility is to include specific words, such as nouns and third person verbs.

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Each month the Business Marketing Association (BMA) luncheon is held at Jillian’s restaurant in Charlotte, and typically there’s a guest speaker/presenter. In December they changed it up and put a panel together to discuss social media. Social media is a hot topic, but the line out the door surprised me.

The room fits about 50 people and is typically half-full; people are busy. On this day it was packed. The audience was a mixture of BMA members – marketing types – and folks from the client side. The panel consisted of two social networking experts, Corey Creed and Brandon Uttley, as well as Lisa Hoffmann, who is Social Media Specialist for Duke Energy. I really wanted to meet Lisa and hear what she had to say.

The corporate world I understand, as I do social media; however, where the two intersect is largely uncharted territory. So I want to meet anyone with “Social Media” in his or her job title. I consider Lisa a pioneer, an explorer, and believe there is much she can teach us. She is not just applying what many of us think is the next big thing, she, through her everyday job and actions, is one of the few people who are defining it.

As Scott Hepburn rose to start the discussion the entire room fell silent. As if choreographed, every back straightened, 100 elbows hit the tables with a thud and an equal number of hands clasped, as if praying for wisdom. We were not disappointed.

I apologize for not giving proper attribution to each comment, but, in summary, here’s what I learned, as well as some of my own insights (no reason to make you read two blog entries):

  • Social media and social networking are not about building superficial relationships.
  • Online relationships are quite similar to offline relationships – or at least they should be.
  • The value in social platforms comes from two-way beneficial relationships, be they person-to-person or company-to-customer. And, if you’re a company, you need both.
  • Empathy and listening skills may be more important than selling and writing skills.
  • Social networking is not broadcasting to an unthinking audience.
  • In-your-face selling is spamming and no one likes getting spammed. Do you?
  • Engage. You can’t stay silent at a party and expect to walk away with lots of new friends.
  • Your posts are not formal monologues or the final wordFacilitate the conversation and comments.
  • Don’t respond to minor criticism and perceived slight. Doing so makes you look petty.
  • Companies like Best Buy and Ford are successful because they use social media to humanize their corporations through the individuals who work there and are genuinely part of the online community.
  • Companies should have social networking policies, but need to realize they can’t control every conversation.
  • Tell the truth. If falsehoods are promoted you’ll be caught, publicly chastised and thrown out of the community.
  • Twitter (etc.) is easier to navigate than a phone tree.
  • Formal emails often include the wrong audience, have too many cc’s and bury calls-to-action; while micro-blogs, such as Twitter, are conversational and more productive.
  • The C-Suite needs to be involved since social media is rich in customer feedback, competitive intelligence, public relations, product suggestions, sales support, and brand reputation.
  • To secure C-Level buy-in, link your social media activities and measurements to specific business goals.
  • Internal and external stakeholders (customers, employees, and the press) need to hear from senior management.
  • Start small with modest goals, measure results and expand slowly.
  • Let those with a passion for social media (for being social and smart) represent your company.
  • The IT Department should not be responsible for social networking. It’s not about computers; it’s about people and conversation.
  • Relationships built today may pay dividends tomorrow. Relationships shunned today may have consequences tomorrow.

All-in-all the panel did a fantastic job, and it was clear it was the right message, to the right audience, at the right time.

What are you doing right with social media?

Effectively grabbing the attention of their target market, American Eagle executed a well-thought marketing plan to help launch their new flagship store in Times Square: give customers 15 seconds of fame. Read the rest of this entry »

A number of people I’ve talked to recently don’t understand all the fuss around social media. What is it? Why is it growing so fast? Can Twitter help or hurt us? Do we need to do anything? Psychologists say that people remember things presented to them in 3s so, briefly, here’s my take, in 3s:

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I listened to a webinar today that focused on public relations planning considerations for 2010. During this webinar, which was presented by Vocus, the speaker reviewed results from a recent survey completed by Vocus subscribers.

vocuslogoFor those who don’t know, Vocus is an online media research and tracking tool that is used by public relations professionals worldwide. It also happens to be the main service that we use here at VantagePoint. Vocus helps build media contact lists, distribute press releases, manage editorial calendar opportunities, and much more.

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Some people call LinkedIn their digital Rolodex, which it can be, but it offers much more. It can also be a tool to help you form business partnerships, research trends, ask questions, form and join groups, follow discussions, and show thought leadership.

linkedinAs a company, you can set up a corporate page, which details the organization, including location, employees and website. By starting a group, you can invite people to join, start conversations, and build a community with your audience. As an individual, you can build your personal profile and become part of groups or associations. Why is all of this important? Like Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn is yet another way to connect with your audience on multiple levels.

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Like Twitter, Facebook can also be used as a way to reach and connect with key audiences anywhere in the world. In fact, Facebook can be used in 70 different languages. Unlike Twitter, however, Facebook allows you to build what are called fan pages or groups. There are slight differences between a Facebook fan page and a group, but they both allow you to share news, pictures, videos, and more. Below are a few idea generators on how to use Facebook for BtoB. Read the rest of this entry »

TwitterTwitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. They are all tools in the ever-growing world of social media, but how do these internet-based services play out in BtoB? I’d like to take some time over the next few posts to demystify what they really do and share some helpful tips on how they can impact your business.

Twitter

Call it silly, but with 140 characters or less, you can accomplish great things. Think of Twitter as the invitation to the party. It’s a way to entice your audience to greater things, such as your website, blog, a video, a news release, and the list goes on. I often get this question from our clients, “I understand the importance of Twitter, but what do we tweet about?” Well, the short answer is: a lot of stuff! Below are a few examples to help get the social media juices flowing:

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