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According to Constant Contact, 74% of all social media users are using #hashtags. That’s interesting because at last count, Facebook hadn’t incorporated hashtags – yet.

They’re working on it, though.

So, what is a hashtag and how can you use it for business?

Simply put, a hashtag is a word or phrase accompanied by a preceding # symbol that is often used to track a conversation. For instance, if you want to know what people are saying about hashtags on social media, you can go to Twitter or Google+ and search for #hashtags. You can even subscribe to the threads to follow the conversation more easily.

As a business, you can enter conversations where hashtags already exist or create your own hashtags. For instance, the popular micro-job site Fiverr has the hashtag #Fiverr on Twitter.

This is another way to optimize your social media posts. By creating hashtags around popular topics related to your niche you can pull in people who may not already be following you on the social media sites where you have a presence. Be sure, however, that you use the hashtags appropriately. Don’t use them to spam people with related topics. That’s a sure way to tick people off and get a bad reputation.

Hashtags are powerful social media tools if you use them correctly. They’re easy to implement and could lead to some big boosts in your business.

Today is Twitter’s seventh birthday. ABC News thinks you should celebrate.

In fact, the news website lists seven ways you can celebrate Twitter’s birthday today. I’m guessing they picked seven ways out of a hat to parallel the fact that it’s Twitter’s seventh birthday. As a summary, here are the ways they suggest you should celebrate:

  1. Relive your best and worst tweets
  2. Make sure your Twitter account looks good
  3. Clean up your follow list
  4. Play around with some fun Twitter sites
  5. Add a video with your tweet with Vine
  6. Teach someone how to use Twitter
  7. Tweet the article

Don’t you love that last one? A little self-congratulatory, aren’t we, ABC News? Maybe a little bit narcissistic?

To honor Twitter’s seventh birthday, I decided to come up with my own list of seven ways you can celebrate Twitter’s birthday today. Are you ready?

Here’s the Reciprocal Consulting list of seven ways to celebrate Twitter’s birthday:

  1. Create a video for your tweet with Vine (hey, a good idea is a good idea)
  2. Follow seven new people
  3. Find seven things to retweet
  4. Create seven new links to tweet related to your business niche (but make sure they are not self-promotional)
  5. Link to your own website once during the day
  6. Tweet your location from your smartphone
  7. Wish Twitter a happy birthday in a tweet

Twitter can either be fun or a total drag. Make it fun. And use it effectively for your business.

When it comes to social media, everyone has their ideas on how to do it properly. Most social media experts I know agree on a few things, but on the nitty-gritty details of running a social media campaign there is a lot of variation. Here’s one of the things that I see often suggested and just as often ignored.

Listen first.

So many small business owners take to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and jump in with a shout. They start promoting this and that about their business without really checking to see who is listening. A better way to get some mileage out of your social media marketing is to listen first, shout later.

Actually, instead of shouting, just whisper.

Let me clarify.

When I say listen first, what I mean is sign up for the service and make a few friends. You can interact with them, but don’t start any special promotions. Just spend your first few weeks listening. What are people talking about? What’s the tone? How often, and in what ways, do people interact on that particular service? What makes the various social media platforms different? Take note of that.

As you are listening, engage with people on the services. Interact with them. That’s how you make friends and build relationships. But hold off on the self-promotion until you’ve made some solid connections.

When the time is right, slowly add a few self-promotional tweets or messages. Don’t overdo it. Spend more time sharing useful information with your audience. Only promote the really good stuff you have. Spend the rest of your time listening.

What’s the best social network for generating business-to-business leads? If you guessed LinkedIn, sorry. You’re wrong. It’s actually Twitter.

In fact, it’s been Twitter for a long time. And this story confirms it.

While Facebook is better for generating traffic, Twitter is the best platform for channeling leads. It’s easy to understand why when you think you about it. Twitter is a massive opt-in list.

People follow you if they think you have something to say that will benefit them. If you follow through and deliver on that expectation, then you can lure them deeper into your marketing funnel. The key is to make your Twitter stream a valuable resource, not a place where you throw out marketing messages no one wants to read.

Essentially, if all you do on Twitter is self-promotion, then you’ll kill your lead generation, but if you provide valuable information in a tight niche, then you build value. People will then be more receptive to your come-ons and appeals for business. That’s where you can cash in on your lead generation efforts.

Here’s the lesson: Learn where your audience hangs out. Then, spend your time there providing valuable information for them.

If you follow that one maxim, your lead generation efforts will pay off – whether you do it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or somewhere else.

Social analytics is very important. Today I’m going to discuss a tool that you can use for a few good purposes. With this tool you can search for information about a certain topic within your niche to see how popular that topic is. It’s a good keyword research tool that you can use for your online content – that includes website content, articles, blog content, and social media content.

Another practical use for this tool is to see what your competition is up to. If your competition has been posting information on a particular topic, then Topsy will let you know. It’s good for competitive intelligence.

Finally, you can use Topsy for social analytics. If you click on the Social Analytics link at the top of the main page, then you can compare search data for up to three keyword phrases. Again, it’s a great keyword research tool.

The great thing about Topsy is you can measure the data you’re looking for in realtime. You can also measure it over time. Furthermore, you can search for content by type (i.e. tweets, links, photos, videos, experts, and trending).

After you search for information on a particular topic, you can narrow down the content search results by time. For instance, you can narrow your search to the last hour or broaden it to the past 7 days. You also have options in between. You can also search by network, but the only options available at this time are Google+ and Twitter.

Topsy looks like it will be a good social media tool. I hope it sticks around awhile.

First you heard that social media was good for customer service. Now there’s someone saying that it isn’t.

So which is it?

I think it depends. There are viable ways to use social media for customer service. However, it won’t work for every company.

If you find that it uses up too many resources or that you can’t respond to customer service queries fast enough, then let your customers know that you can’t take customer service concerns through social media. The big thing is communication. In fact, the best customer service you can deliver through any medium is communication.

Consider limiting your social media customer service actions to specific hours – then post those hours on your website and in your social media bios.

If that won’t work, you can take more drastic measures and remove your Facebook page or Twitter account – but only do that if you need to. After all, you can use those accounts for purposes other than customer service.

If your marketing department and your customer service department don’t communicate well and you are making customers unhappy by not responding fast enough, fix the problem. Maybe you need to encourage more interaction between your departments. Or maybe you need to set up a separate social media account for customer service. Kick around the ideas and see what works for you.

As we enter a new year, search marketers will start to make their predictions for the coming year. I always read and pay attention to what the leaders in the industry are saying. One leader I like to keep tabs on is Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz. His predictions for 2013 aren’t really striking (most of them), but I’d like to hone in on three of them for a little bit.

  1. Google+ – Rand says that Google+ will continue to grow albeit at a slower pace. I think that’s a reasonable prediction. I also believe that some time in the near or mid-term future Google+ will be an essential element of SEO. We’re not there yet, but I believe it’s coming, and a part of that is the steady growth of the service.
  2. Facebook/Twitter metrics – One of the downsides of marketing on Facebook and Twitter is that neither service offers very robust tracking and metrics tools for marketers. Facebook is further along than Twitter, but their admin portal is still quite slim. If Rand’s prediction on this one comes to fruition, then you can expect Facebook’s and Twitter’s value as marketing tools to increase.
  3. Co-citations – Another interesting prediction is that anchor text will diminish and co-citations increase. This has already started happening, but Rand is saying that confirmation of it will come in 2013. I suspect that Google’s reliance on the change will also grow. This will be a big deal to search marketers who have traditionally relied on link building techniques for search rankings.

Interesting, there was hardly any mention of mobile search or tablets in Rand’s predictions. Don’t think that these will be off the table in 2013. I still see growth in those areas as well.

If you have hired freelancers, or inside employees, to manage your Twitter account, you can now go back to see your Twitter archive. Consider this a brand new way to monitor your Twitter account, especially as it pertains to accountability.

Twitter moves quickly. And there’s no real digital way to monitor your tweets before they are posted. That’s why it could be important for you to go back and take a look at your Twitter archive, a new service feature the microblogging service recently rolled out.

Another reason you might want to access your Twitter archive is if you are being sued. If you end up in litigation, your Twitter archive could prove a valuable asset during the discovery phase of your lawsuit. It could actually help you win the case.

Besides holding your Twitter posters accountable, you can also detect other business problems with your Twitter archive. Have you handled a lot of customer complaints through Twitter? Maybe you have a deeper systemic customer service problem. Have a large majority of your sales or website traffic come from Twitter? Your archive could help you see what you are doing right on Twitter that you can then use on other social networks.

Your Twitter archive may not be the most important asset you have, but it can prove valuable in some situations.

Are you tired of social media How To posts that start off by telling you to write a killer profile? What else are you going to do? Of course you’re going to add a profile to your account. That’s what you do when you join a social media site. You tell people who you are. It’s a no-brainer, not some flash of brilliance.

One article I read gave a list of ten things to make your Twitter account stand out. In a nutshell, here’s the sage advice:

  1. Set up a professional profile (As opposed to an unprofessional one?)
  2. Stand out from the crowd (You mean, like, tweet in your underwear?)
  3. Indirect mention (Because influencers are so oblique)
  4. Ask for help (You know you need it)
  5. Help others (They need it too)
  6. Listen (To the sound of silence?)
  7. Be consistent (Why not? Inconsistency is sooooo bad.)
  8. Participate in Twitter chats (Not a bad idea, actually)
  9. Use hashtags (Yep, I agree with that one)
  10. Retweet your followers for influencers (Because influencing the influencers is the most important thing)

There’s actually some pretty good advice in there, and that’s the problem. It’s the same old advice that “Twitter experts” have been giving for five years. Nothing new, really.

So I’d like to give you the down and dirty How To Twitter advice you won’t get anywhere else. It’s a one-step process. You don’t have to memorize 10 dos or don’ts. All you have to know is ONE thing:

Be Yourself

You won’t get any better social media advice than that.

Twitter has always been a good place to market your products and services, meet new prospects, and enter into conversations about your services. But it recently got even better.

One thing that makes Twitter so special, or at least puts it on par with Google and Bing, is the fact that now you can use an autocomplete feature in Twitter’s search engine. This may not seem like much, but use it a few times and see how much time it saves you.

Another new feature is the search for people you follow feature. If you have a large Twitter list and you’re trying to find just one person on the webwsite, then search for them by Twitter name. Very useful tool.

But that’s not all. Twitter has always been a great destination for serious social media marketers.

With Twitter, you can start or join a conversation around any topic while turning followers into friends and business prospects.

Aside from the social nature of Twitter, you can save time using the autocomplete feature when you are looking for topics to blog about, then your blogging time can be cut in half or thirds. Save a bundle on the writing and the posting. You are posting your blog posts on Twitter, aren’t you?

Both Google and Bing have a product called Trends. It seems like a search engine-y thing to do. But these services really just convey information about what searches are popular right now. They measure what people are searching for on the respective search engine for the moment. If you’re signed into your Google+ account, then you can see that information for Google+.

Until now, Twitter has been showing users what topics are trending, but those topics may or may not have any particular interest for you. They’ve been fairly generic.

Recently, however, Twitter has announced that it will soon be rolling out a “tailored trends” service. Sounds unique doesn’t it?

Actually, it is. Twitter is saying that users will be able to select the trends they see based on their own location and who they are following. In other words, if you follow a lot of celebrities, then you’ll be able to see trending topics related to celebrities. If you are in the U.S., then the trending topics you see will be related to the geographic area in which you live.

This could actually be a useful service. It certainly will be unique. But will it be enough to make Twitter competitive?

What do you think? Can Twitter compete with Google+ and Facebook or is it a social media has-been trying to be relevant again?

We’ve known for a while now that Bing and Facebook were in good with each. They’ve developed a pretty cozy relationship over the last few years. Last year, Twitter and Google were playing nice until Twitter ended their relationship with Google abruptly. Now I know why.

Bing made them a better offer.

Both Facebook and Twitter have toyed with the idea of developing a competing search engine. But no one has ever developed a search engine that even came close to the powerful Google. Until Bing.

Google has wanted its own social network. Until now all their attempts have been failed attempts. Then someone came up with the idea of Google+. Bingo! Huge sucess. Well, OK, it’s been a success.

Google+ is Google’s search engine plus social networking. Not everyone is buying it, but the people who are buying it are really buying it. On June 1, Bing announced something similar, only they don’t have their own social network so they’ve partnered with Facebook and Twitter.

Along with the new features in its search engine, Bing has redesigned its search results pages. They’ve added a third column.

The cool feature about the new Bing-Facebook relationship is that you can now query the search engine and then tag your Facebook friends on the search to get their feedback and have them answer your question. Beyond that, Bing will also notify you of experts in that area and you can ask the recommended experts. Pretty cool. But let’s take it a step further. If someone does have the answer to your question they can answer you on either Facebook or Bing.

Isn’t that nice?

I haven’t played around with the new Bing much, but this excites me. I think it can be a big boon to businesses trying to market themselves online. Your search engine marketing now has even greater potential.

Twitter Chat has become one of the most popular features of the social media service whose mascot is a funny-looking bird. The way it works is the moderator, or facilitator, of the chat creates a hashtag that all members of the chat session can use to keep up with the conversation. While the hashtag is useful for keeping up with the chat, there are some tools that you can use to make tweeting easier during the chat session. One such tool is TweetChat.

The benefit to using TweetChat is that everyone who is a member of the chat session can make their tweets via TweetChat and the tool itself will automatically insert the hashtag after each post. That’s important because many members of a Twitter chat session will often forget to include the hashtag when they post.

So what are the benefits of hosting a Twitter chat session?

First, you can use it to develop relationships with your biggest fans and customers. Set a chat session to discuss an important topic in your industry and see who shows up. You can also offer discounts on items to people who show up at the chat sessions, so you can use it as a marketing and promotional tool. The biggest benefit to hosting a Twitter chat session is that you can often find new followers due to the public nature of the chat sessions. Because they are public and not private anyone can see the chat in progress. That means anyone who is following your hashtag or who performs a search for keywords that any member of the chat session uses will see your chat session and possibly join. Followers of each member will also see the chat and may join in.

Hosting Twitter chat session can lead to more followers and more business for your brand. It’s a great social media tool.

An SEO company conducted an experiment with a well done control test that sheds some light on the connection between organic search rankings and social media promotion. The conclusion is that Google+ promotion increases search rankings. I think there may be some nuances this test doesn’t touch on, but it looks pretty reasonable to me that they’ve drawn the right conclusion.

I have noticed that Google+ is a good reputation management tool.

If you look at the results of the study, they seem to indicate that acquiring new Google+ followers is the best activity for increasing one’s search engine rankings, but that could be misleading. The results are based on gaining just 100 new followers. Would the results be the same if the number of new followers were 1,000? How about 5,000?

Next in line for increasing search engine rankings is getting +1s. It actually makes sense that getting more +1s would increase search engine rankings. This doesn’t surprise me at all.

That Facebook promotion actually does increase Google rankings does surprise me a little bit. But I’m glad to see that it happens. Facebook has done a lot to make itself a walled garden so a lot of your activity isn’t measured by Google. Evidently, Likes and shares are.

Tweets and retweets can also increase search engine rankings, but only by a smidgen. The only thing that surprises me about this is that the results are much lower than expected. I’d have thought that Twitter promotion would do more to increase search engine rankings.

Finally, simply acquiring new Twitter followers not only doesn’t help, but there was a slight decrease in search engine rankings. That’s another surprise. But this might not have anything to do with Twitter. If no other social media activity took place, then the slight decrease in search engine rankings might have been as a result of that lack of activity.

Given these results, it seems to reason that if you engaged in Google+, Facebook, and Twitter promotions simultaneously, then your search engine rankings should improve relative to the amount of activity engaged by your competition. Nice test. I’m glad someone undertook it.

It appears that large companies have given up their blogs and flocked to social media instead. The reason they’re giving up is because they say that social media is easier to manage than a blog. But is it?

I love this paragraph by Cynthia Boris:

Just remember that if you want your social media outlets to benefit you, you have to do more than just keep the lights on. You have to provide meaningful content that engages your audience. In that respect, it’s just as hard as blogging, but most people don’t see it that way.

Not only that, but …

What blogs give you that you don’t get with social media, is a chance to communicate without all the noise. On Facebook, you’re one of a dozen posts competing for instant attention. An hour later, you’re off the front page and forgotten.

What Cynthia Boris doesn’t say is that your company blog also provides you with search engine optimization benefits that Facebook and Twitter don’t offer. OK, Twitter does offer a little bit of SEO juice, but it’s nowhere near what your blog has to offer.

Every blog post you write is another chance to be seen in a search result. Your blog itself increases its SEO chutzpah with longevity. And you can build invaluable internal links with a blog. Facebook has blocked Google so your posts aren’t going to be indexed and your links back to your site won’t be seen. Twitter is in bed with Bing, not Google.

I’m not saying don’t use Facebook or Twitter. They have their place. But having a blog is one of the best SEO tools you can have. If you have trouble coming up with content, maybe you should think about hiring someone else to manage your blog.

Are you a CEO? Do you have direct access to the CEO at your company? If so, then you should do everything you can to convince him or her to open up a Twitter account and start tweeting.

According to the latest survey, 77% of consumers and 82% of employees trust a company more when its CEO tweets.

Tweeting puts your CEO on the front line of customer service rather than hiding behind a desk on top of a 700-foot ivory tower. That spells “inaccessible,” and in an age of expected accessibility it is the cardinal sin. Your entire company will benefit if your CEO isn’t afraid to get his social media hands dirty.

That doesn’t mean he should just jump in without getting a primer first. Certainly, you should have your PR or marketing consultant discuss the pros and cons of Twitter and develop a social media strategy.

I wouldn’t stop at Twitter either. Try out Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn as well. All of your top executives should have a social media presence.

It’s hard to ignore social media in today’s world. It’s so expected that if you ignore it you will be relegating your company to the trash heaps of history. And there are enough companies heading in that direction without yours joining them. The best part about social media is that you don’t have to spend all day working it. You can have a viable plan with just 15-30 minutes a day.

If you’re a CEO, work out your social media plan now.

Recent news shows that Twitter – chirp chirp – has acquired Posterous. So now for the obvious question, so what?

The move has many speculators suggesting that Twitter will eventually shut down Posterous. After all, Twitter’s own message hints that the reason they made the purchase was to gain access to the engineers working on the Posterous platform:

Posterous engineers, product managers and others will join our teams working on several key initiatives that will make Twitter even better.

If that’s the case, then don’t be surprised if you do see your Posterous account suddenly in jeopardy. But Twitter is trying to be sensitive to your needs:

Posterous Spaces will remain up and running without disruption. We’ll give users ample notice if we make any changes to the service. For users who would like to back up their content or move to another service, we’ll share clear instructions for doing so in the coming weeks.

It think it would be wise to take them up on their offer and back up your content. There’s the possibility that Twitter will allow Posterous to continue, but I doubt it. These types of acquisitions generally lead to closures, and it’s understandable why. They are a drain on resources and an expense, not to mention a distraction from the purchasing company’s primary mission. So, the business philosophy is to cut the fat.

Should you ditch Posterous right now? No, I wouldn’t say that. You should adopt a “wait and see” approach. Keep posting as before, but be prepared to take your content elsewhere should Twitter decide to close the service.

In social media and Web marketing, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

What is the most popular social media website for business-to-business marketing? If you guessed Twitter, then you’d be right. But which social media site actually delivers more leads? According to Mediabistro, that would be LinkedIn.

Big surprise?

The sad part is most small businesses aren’t using any kind of social media measurement tool, so how would they know where the majority of their leads are coming from? Twitter might be more popular, and easier to use. But it isn’t more lucrative. The ROI is actually coming from the social media site that specializes in B2B networking.

But LinkedIn doesn’t just beat Twitter for lead generation. It beats ALL social media websites. Even blogging.

While most small businesses are using social media and have a strategy for it, most of them also don’t use any kind of social media metrics. That brings to mind an age-old question: If you aren’t measuring it, how can you change it?

Businesses who do business with other businesses need to figure out how to measure their social media marketing campaigns. And it helps if you use the social networks that your target audience is using. If you are targeting consumers, that might be Facebook or Twitter. If you are targeting other businesses, it is more than likely LinkedIn.

One thing is for sure – we live in a social media age. But don’t just do it because your competition is doing it. Doing it because it is right for your business.

Pinterest is the new kid on the block and already it has surpassed Twitter in traffic numbers. But don’t get excited just yet.

We’re only talking about one month. Was that a fluke or is Pinterest still trending upward? Will that trend continue over time?

And if it does, will traffic from Pinterest convert?

It’s best to understand that Twitter and Pinterest are two different social networks and therefore have two different sets of demographics. That might make it unfair to compare the two.

For instance, Twitter is mostly women and mostly younger people. Twitter, on the other hand, is mostly male, but only slightly. Twitter is also heavily used among the African-American and Hispanic demographics. It’s also a mostly younger crowd.

Any time you use a social media site you should take some time to study their users. Who else is using that site? If your targeted audience doesn’t use the site, then it doesn’t matter how much traffic you can potentially get from the site.

If your target market is mostly women, then Pinterest is a good bet for you. That’s not to say that you can’t use Pinterest if your target market is mostly men. But you have to understand how to reach the men who are using Pinterest, so familiarity with the platform and its limitations is also necessary.

Most marketers can effectively use Pinterest and Twitter side by side, but don’t try to use them the same way. They are different social media services and your audience will require a tailored approach.

McDonald’s decided to spend its money buying a hashtag on the popular social media website Twitter.

First, I’d like to know how you can buy a hashtag, but that’s an aside. The real issue is what happened after McDonald’s changed its hashtag from #MeetTheFarmers to #McDStories.

The original hashtag was meant to introduce McDonald’s Twitter followers to the company’s promotion of fresh produce. It worked well. Then, in a flash of brilliance that turned out to be not so brilliant, the company’s social media manager decided to open the door to the universe by expanding its Twitter promotion. Enter #McDStories.

Who doesn’t have a positive McDonald’s story, right? Indeed. And who doesn’t have a negative one. Duh.

You can probably guess what happened next. Followers started using the new hashtag to relate their own McDonald’s stories – chipped molars, regurgitation, food poisoning …. The list goes on.

I think the big lesson here is not how to respond to negative reactions on Twitter or some other social media site. Rather, the real lesson is how to prevent it from happening in the first place. This all could have been prevented had McDonald’s not insisted on opening the door to the universe. All they had to do was keep running the promotion that was working.

When things are going well, don’t change them. Rule #1. Rule #2 is, always ask what might go wrong.

Had McDonald’s social media manager lived by those two rules we wouldn’t be talking about them right now. That second question is particularly important. In social media – and on the World Wide Web in general – once something starts spiraling out of control, it’s hard to get a handle on it. If it’s out there, it’s out there. So put some thought into your moves before you make them. Ask, what can go wrong with this? If the answer is something too big to control or too embarrassing to let go on, don’t make your move. Do something else, or nothing at all.