Stop, Collaborate and Engage – Small Business Communication and Social Media Tools For Entrepreneurs

From smoke signals and carrier pigeons to smartphones and their ubiquitous apps, the way people interact across distances has drastically evolved. With each passing year, innovation appoints a new form of communication as revolutionary while decrying another form as passé.

During the past six months, you’ve probably learned what a “tweet” is and what it means to “friend” someone. Though both are interesting new forms of interaction, their applications to small business communication are less clear.

Twitter and Facebook are, at their most basic levels, additional channels aiding in small business communication. Like print or broadcast advertising, these social media initiatives allow a company to directly communicate with consumers. Though unlike advertising, these services allow for two-way communication where your audience – which includes customers, prospects, advocates, government entities and the general public – can respond. It is this engagement where many companies fall flat.

Kicking Off Your Social Media Initiatives

Simply setting up a Twitter handle and Facebook page does not plug you into the social media ether. Managing these accounts and consistently updating them is vital, so much so that many large companies are hiring full-time employees to man their social media initiatives. For entrepreneurs with limited time, there are many applications that can help you manage content for both services in one place, like Digsby (which has instant messaging integration as well), Brizzly or TweetDeck.

For entrepreneurs new to Twitter or other social media initiatives, the best approach is to do a few searches on words that are relevant to your business and try to find a handful of experts in your field to follow. Then, spend your first few days just “listening” to the conversation from these experts, resisting the urge to start singing the praises of your product or broadcasting your message. Once you get a feel for the kinds of things people talk about and how they do it on Twitter, start with the 2, 2, 2 rule. Post 2 original things, re-tweet two posts you find interesting or useful, and reply to two people about something they tweeted. This is a good way to be a valuable participant and to increase your “followers” number as people find the things you have to say to be useful.

For most entrepreneurs, a significant investment of time and resources strictly for social media initiatives is not feasible. Depending on a company’s level of commitment to increasing its small business communication efforts, social media may not be the right channel, right now. But, for those companies that can invest resources to examine the social media landscape, determine if it is right for their business and actively engage in dialogue, Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools to grow their small business communication strategy.

Though Twitter and Facebook are good starting points, if these social media darlings are where your social media knowledge ends, you need to know about the many other small business communication technologies that allow entrepreneurs to interact with customers and engage prospects.

Oldies but goodies…

The social media landscape has significantly changed the face of small business communication, but it does not mean previous technologies have been rendered useless. “Old” technologies, such as e-mail newsletters, instant messaging and message boards are still active and can still increase productivity (and sales!). Many entrepreneurs already have a strong understanding of these technologies and have probably used them in the past. Consider dusting off that old e-mail newsletter you belong to – you know, the one you haven’t read in 2 years – or do a quick search of what message boards are out there. You may be reminded of and surprised at how useful these seemingly out-of-date services can be.

Some you’ve probably heard of, but may not know the full power of…

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has become the platform for business-focused social networking. By setting up a LinkedIn profile, users are able to post their work history and professional profiles for others to see. This tool presents opportunities for generating new business, reconnecting with old colleagues, and finding a job.

While many business users may have a LinkedIn profile, they may overlook the other small business communication tools LinkedIn provides. For example, LinkedIn Groups are a simple way to create an online forum where customers, prospects and industry insiders can exchange ideas. Similar to an e-mail newsletter, the Group allows invited LinkedIn users to interact with one another and for a company to communicate key messages. With some simple work on the front-end to get the group moving, an entrepreneur can then take a back-seat to let the patients run the asylum – while still maintaining his or her position as the group leader.

Wiki

A wiki (rhymes with tricky) is a website that allows users to edit the content that is posted on the page; the trick to wikis is ensuring the edits are accurate. Wikipedia, for example, is an editable online encyclopedia in which users can edit the content. The reason the information remains accurate is Wikipedia has designated individuals to monitor updates.

From a business perspective, a wiki is a great small business communication tool for companies with geographically distributed offices or teams. Users can post a document or other materials on an internal wiki and allow a group to review and edit the material in one place. Beyond the team collaboration, the wiki also helps with “version control,” a problem that occurs when some users do not have the most up-to-date version of a document. Microsoft’s SharePoint offers companies the ability to make internal wikis, as well as discussion boards.

Some small business communication tools you may not have heard of…

Yammer

Yammer is an enterprise microblogging service – think of it as Twitter for internal business communication. The service allows businesses to create their own internal communication channel and limit use to those who have a valid company e-mail address.

Yammer allows users to post questions, share news, ideas and documents, and post status updates to the entire group. This service allows short messages to be sent and for users to filter the messages they receive so they aren’t bombarded with information that is not relevant to them. Much like a wiki, Yammer allows distributed companies to communicate in a private community, only in shorter bursts.

Ning

Ning lets users create social networks around topics about which they are passionate. Do you love cheese? If so, you can create a cheese lovers community. Do you fear bunnies? Then you can connect with others who share your phobia. With Ning, you create the network that matches your life.

Why should an entrepreneur care about all these different social media initiatives? If your company produces gourmet cheese, that cheese lovers group is a new business goldmine. Are you a psychiatrist just out of med school looking to build a client base? The bunny-phobic network is a breeding ground for potential patients. Whether setting up a targeted social network or joining one already in existence, Ning can connect your business with others that share your unique passions.

What’s more, Ning has one of the more quantifiable ROI models of all social media. Ning’s premium service allows the administrator to run ads on its network (this service does require a fee, though). Not only could you run your own ads, you could potentially run ads from other members of your community, creating a quantifiable revenue stream from your network.

When it comes to social media initiatives, there is no magic bullet to grow your business. But there is a unique combination that is right for every entrepreneur. By balancing time and resources, and examining the social media habits of its customers and prospects, a business can develop a small business communication strategy that will accelerate growth.

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Three Critical Need Areas for Business Communication Improvement

Whether it is business communication or personal communication, communication is all around us.

But what is communication? Do we really know? Do we realize how important it is and how much of a factor it is in making our personal or business lives succeed or fail?

Experts tell us that many of the inmates in prisons are there because of a lack of communication skills issues. We are also told that eighty percent of the workers in our nations are unhappy in their job because of this lack of skills issues as well.

Here’s what communication is:

“the act of transmitting. A giving or exchanging of information, signals, or messages by talk, gestures, writing, etc. To make known. To give information, messages. To have a systematic and meaningful relationship. A system for sending and receiving messages as by telephone, telegraph, radio, etc… A system as of routes for moving one place to another. The art of expressing ideas, esp. in speech and writing. The science of transmitting information, esp. in symbol.” (Websters New World Dictionary).

Thus, communication is a system for sending and receiving messages.

We send and receive messages all day long, in our personal and business lives. But, we don’t know how to do it properly and we mess up enough daily to affect the outcome of society.

In business, so much of the results depends on our ability to communicate — people to people, department to department, sales to accounting, production to processes, marketing to finance, company to customers, etc.

From my observations, in most cases, the biggest need for improvement in business is found in the following three areas — in that order:

1. Organization

2. Communication

3. Training

Communication cannot be implemented on top of disorganization. Training cannot be implemented on top of non-communication. And, organization cannot be implemented without the effective communication of trained people.

For years, we’ve seen seminars and training on this subject become more and more popular, yet we still want more of them. We especially want those that offer something new that will help us to improve our business communication.

But we still have problems communicating. Why? It is because of the missing link. Then what is this missing link?

The missing link is the “contextual part” of all communication.

So, to pick up from our three critical need areas listed above, “contextual” communication is the bridge that connects and sustains organization, communication and training.

What is the difference between communication and contextual communication? Communication is still communication but contextual communication is communication within the “context” as it is described here:

Context: “the parts of a sentence, paragraph, discourse, etc. immediately next to or surrounding a specified word or passage and determining its exact meaning (to quote a remark out of context). The whole situation, background, or environment relevant to a particular event, personality, creation, etc. Contextual: of, depending on, or belonging to the context. (The New World Dictionary).

The problem is that we communicate without an awareness of this “contextual” parts of our daily business communication as well as personal communication.

So put these two descriptions of “communication and context” together and you have the recipe for better and improved business communication in the three critical areas of needs in business communication: organization, communication and training.

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Business Communication Skills

Improving Business Communication skills is incredibly significant in case you desire to turn into a genuine professional. This review focuses on business communication styles and how to develop them.

Constituents of business communications skills:

If you happen to working inside an organization, you have got undoubtedly understood how significant corporation communication skills are. Organization communication skills play a quite critical role in helping employees communicate with one another in an efficient manner. In business communication there typically are a couple of major varieties of communication, internal and external. In internal communication, there is a transfer of knowledge among a couple of or far more entities among the businesses. On the other hand, in external communication, the knowledge transfer is carried out among the business employees and outside entities. Both these types of communication are significant to your smooth running of any business concern. Let us get know far more within the aspects of business interpersonal skills and organizational skills inside the workplace.

Public speaking:
As the name suggests, public speaking is a speech in front of many people, be it inside a smaller technique meeting or a big conference. This skill stands out as the most significant for executives at higher positions. You ought to develop your skills with relating to how you are heading to present the facts inside a structured manner.

Email and report writing skills:
Writing skills are quite essential for all employees in the organization, irrespective of the position. Writing emails, reports schedules are daily tasks carried out inside a business in its everyday running. After using written approaches of communication in business, remember to hold it short, formal and precise.

Negotiation skills:
Negotiation skills are commonly applied by those who are working in promoting and communication processes in the business. These skills are required during telecommunication, written communication or face to face communication. Negotiation approaches are also regarded as probably the most needed business trouble solving skills.

Follow up skills:
Several working professionals follow an incomplete process of communication. They transfer knowledge from their side, but do not make certain whether the receiver has got the response and understood what is necessary or not. Follow up of facts is what each executive has to perform for creating the communication cycle complete.

Telephone skills:
One more important aspect of business communication skills is how we sound over a telephone. Communication via telephone is extremely popular in today’s business world and to pass over a message clearly, you have to develop beneficial telephone skills. These oral communication skills need to be improved in particular by those people working in the client support sector.

Voice tone and physique language:
During face to face workplace communication, you need to have a pleasant and humble tone. Do not speak in a toe that would give an authoritative and rude touch towards speech. Along with your tone, you need to also be in an excellent and confident posture.

Exercise business listening skills by giving others a chance to speak out and realize what they got to say.

These are several random concepts included in business communication skills. Owing towards the value of business communication skills, several business concern have kicked off to arrange for employee training sessions. Along with these approaches at the workplace, you also need to develop trust among employees for trustworthy and clear communication. When it comes to highly effective business communication, effective listening is the probably most vital essential. Remember that clear communication often leads to anticipated results.

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