Cutting the social web down to size for the perfect fit

While at the launch of the Northern Hub of Enterprise Nation, at the Digital Media Centre, in Barnsley, I had the pleasure of speaking with Reynaldo Robinson, the co-owner of Vyn Johns, a specialist in vintage bridal gowns and menswear, based in Sheffield.

It’s always fascinating to talk to people from different business backgrounds to myself, and Vyn Johns are as different to Octane as anyone could imagine. But, despite the differences, there are the same themes: too few hours; making difficult decisions about which jobs to take on; meeting the expectations of the customer of client. The list goes on.

Reynaldo has a background in marketing, who — as you might imagine — is making solid use of Twitter, Facebook, et cetera. Please, take the time to skim down their Instagram feed, where you’ll discover a fascinating use of tiled images of two large photographs, because the effect is very impressive.

As a business that creates and curates vintage bridal garments, the photography is everything, and Vyn Johns making the most of that.

Sizing things up

What’s clear is that Reynaldo has everything under control, so there was little I could recommend, other than tightening things up a little, which Reynaldo is aware of, and on his to-do list.

So where do I come in? Little of what I suggested was news to Reynaldo, which is encouraging to see. So instead, I’ll write up those thoughts, recommendations, and suggestions for the benefit of everyone else.

But first, if you’re not using Google Analytics for your website, then you’re missing a big trick.

Getting a feel for social media

So you’re on Twitter and you’ve completed your profile by adding a link to your website. Good. Now let’s imagine someone visits your profile and follows the link straight to the home page. We can better than that.

Social media is about creating a dialogue and establishing a narrative around yourself. Here, you’ve already warmed the person up enough for them to visit your website, so why not keep things going by sending them to a web page which expands on you, your business, and what it is you do?

I point people to a page that isn’t that easy to find (via the website itself), so when people visit that page, I’m 99% certain they came from Twitter, which I’m able to see in — you’ve guessed it — Google Analytics. I’m able to quantify where people are coming from with a bit more precision, and I’m keeping that conversation moving along.

You can do the same thing anywhere (Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, a Page on Facebook, et cetera) that allows you to add a link to your website.

Almost anyone can jump into social media, but it’s all about quality and not quantity. Here, the goal is to create a feel, and a texture that speaks about you and the passion you have for your work.

A one-size-fits-all website

I often describe Google as being a fussiest 13 year-old who wants to read everything, but has a short attention span. It’s a shame I don’t take heed of my own advice! Fortunately, my clients do. The goal here is to write articles and to write often, to keep little Miss Google enthralled. This might seem a daunting task, but — again — it’s all about being specific.

Reynaldo attends trade fairs up and down the Yorkshire and surrounding regions. If, like Vyn Johns, you’re often out and about, why not announce this in an article ahead of the event, giving those prospective far-flung customers the chance to meet you.

If you’re going to be writing articles, you’ll need to best tools to do it, and I would recommend WordPress. You have two basic options:

  1. a “hosted” version of WordPress, whereby you sign up and get going within minutes;
  2. or you download WordPress, configure it (which involves a degree of technical knowledge) and then get going.

WordPress is very flexible, with a wealth of options to configure it exactly to your tastes and needs. Here, the second option offers the most flexibility, but that comes with the cost of being more technical to configure and manage.

Once up and running, you have the power to write articles whenever you choose, without having to pay for the services of someone like me!

Making adjustments for a tighter fit

So you’ve got yourself in on the social media act, and you have your website, which you control. Now what? We begin joining the dots.

You’re at the trade fair, you have prospective customers approaching you, and you need to give them something tangible, as a reminder. You also need to quantify those people, and in doing so, you get a measure of your own relative success; after all, it’s pointless attending a trade fair if you have no idea whether someone who came to your booth or stall made a purchase at a later date.

A pattern for landing pages

Everyone has seen those adverts on TV asking us to call a number or visit a website and either quote or use a code. We can do the same. It’s cheap and easy to print out fliers containing your campaign code, which you then hand out.

Now, on your website — powered by WordPress, or similar — you create a page whose link address would be, for example: www.your-website.co.uk/campaign-code, which you include on your flier.

What’s a landing page? It’s a clutter-free page with one purpose, and that is to encourage the visitor to do something. That something is either:

  • buy a particular item;
  • make contact with you for further information;
  • download an ebook, or some other digital item;
  • or perhaps sign up to a newsletter.

A common pattern for landing pages is the minimalist approach, in that they don’t include any of the navigation elements a regular web page would, for the simple reason that you don’t want anything to distract the visitor, and to detract from the experience, where you’re attempting to funnel them towards a specific goal.

In the case of the trade fair, perhaps have photographs of the items you had on show, with a call-to-action, such as a “Buy Now” button, for example.

As people visit your landing page, you’re quantifying the interest you generated at the trade fair, and perhaps converting that interest into actual sales.

A seamless narrative

While at the trade fair, why not have your own hashtag, so that like-minded visitors to your booth or stall get to share in and become part of the narrative. Similarly, take photographs of your display, talk about what’s happening, encourage visitors to mention you, and for them to take photographs, too.

Afterwards, all those photographs, the conversations, and the happy visitors mentioning you and your efforts that have been working so hard, building layer upon layer of an on-going tapestry, where you treat each moment as a success, one on top of the other, so that — in effect — you’re creating a continuous and seamless narrative, made to measure.


Managing and making the most of your software

Let’s face it, our businesses probably wouldn’t function without a computer or two, yet we do things every day that leave us vulnerable should things go wrong. So let’s assume your software is broken, or you can’t do something and you need help — well here’s how to make the most of your software and solve those problems.

Finding the right software resources

First up, I’m not going to explain how to use this or that piece of software. What I am going to do is explain how to ask the right question to the right people in the right places.

Bookmarks and Favourites

So you’ve bought some new software. Good for you! Now go to the website of the company you just bought it from and bookmark their:

  • home page for your country;
  • their blog, perhaps subscribing to their feed;
  • their support section, and;
  • their support forums.

I’m using Apple’s Safari as my main web browser to manage all of my bookmarks, which I’ve organized into folders. I use Safari because I can synchronize all of my important data with my iPhone, so I’m always connected.

Important data — that’d be like passwords, right? Here’s my 7 security tips for your computer and the web.

So instead of groping around, wondering what the hell to do, you have instant access to the web resources you’re going to need to solve those problems.

All good software vendors will be as connected as possible, not just hiding behind a premium rate telephone number, or some Byzantine and labyrinth-like support structure, to wear you out before you’ve found the help you need. And those vendors that are really connected will be socially networked…

Twitter and Facebook

While hooking up with your software vendors via a social network might not smack of support, it is in so far as paying attention to their messages, which are often hints, tips and notifications of security patches and upgrades. Also, with Twitter, you get to message them directly and stand a good chance of getting a reply to your question.

If they have a Page on Facebook, then you’ll see much the same as you will on Twitter, but more in depth, with comments from other users and what their thoughts are.

Sometimes, you might get more help from the user comments than from the vendor themselves; especially if you’re considering an upgrade but it turns out to be problematic for some.

Why not read my beginner’s guide to social networking?

When software goes wrong

First of all, don’t panic! Write down your problem, try to re-create that problem and then make some notes. Sometimes, major problems can result in a loss of data, so get into the habit of saving; make that thumb and forefinger save shortcut an instinctive reflex!

Urgent problems

Once you’ve got your notes, write them out as a series of 1, 2, 3 style steps, explaining what you did, right up to (and perhaps beyond) the problem you encountered.

Next, go to the support section for the vendor of the software and look for a support contact form, where you get to add your details and your notes. This is urgent, so follow up with a call.

Why bother with the support contact form if this is urgent? Because this will be the basis of your support query, which they will then work from. Also, this offers you some redress, should they have problems dealing with your support query.

The next steps are crucial, because we can’t assume you’re dealing with the right people first off. Most support calls will lead you to the front line of support, often called level one, which are people who’re often reading from scripts and might not be technically familiar with the software. If you know you have a genuine problem and it is urgent, ask to speak to someone senior to them.

Next, make more notes! Seriously, take names, mark down the time and make complete notes of what they’re telling you. Because if things go wrong here, you’re going to need those notes.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced problems with support personnel and used my notes because they simply haven’t even bothered following their own support tickets, or even making any support tickets in the first place.

Dazed and confused?

Well, you may be as well posting your problem into their support forums, for other users to help you with. In most cases, you’ll need to create an account before you can post (unless you’ve not already done so as part of the registration / sign-up process), but it’ll be worth the effort, believe me.

Some of the people you’ll meet on their are as or more knowledgeable about the software than the people who wrote it. Also, the people who maintain the forums — the moderators — will often assist, too. These people are the ones you’re really going to benefit from most.

But, before you post anything, use their search engine first, to see if anyone else as had the same problem as you. Sometimes, you’ll find a whole stream of similar problems, with solutions already provided.

Sometimes, their search tool isn’t the best, so what do you do? Why, use Google, of course! Google is often much better at finding things on forums than the forums themselves.

Software Q&A

So your problem is small, mildly annoying, but otherwise not a show stopper. Try messaging them on Twitter to get an answer. Or, you can just Tweet a message with their @name in it, to get their attention.

Some people confuse being rude with asking for support, by posting borderline abusive messages with their @name in them, for effect more than anything else. I suppose it goes without saying that you shouldn’t do this!

And finally…

Aside from the vendors themselves, there are plenty of unofficial resources out there, many of which are well maintained and very, very popular. Mostly run by fans, these places can be abuzz with tips, tricks and solutions. So be on the look out!

If you can’t explain what happened, don’t expect much more than a fake frown and a shrug of the shoulders from the support people. So there are no software tricks and keyboard shortcuts when it comes to getting the help you need — you have to be calm, methodical and have the right resources just a few clicks away.