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Maria Peagler

Maria Peagler

Editor’s note: The following is a guest blog post from my friend entrepreneur Maria Peagler. Maria will be a guest speaker on social media at  Tory Johnson’s Spark and Hustle small business boot camp in Atlanta this summer.

Business blogs are filled with case studies of how social media helps businesses flourish and compete in an online marketing age. Today I’m offering a personal story of how and why I used social media, really as a last resort, to promote my business to an international stage.

September 2008: 3,000 copies of my indie-published book arrived in my warehouse after I had invested $25,000 on its production and printing. Color Mastery was a four-color softcover book, with over 200 illustrations and photographs, on museum-quality paper. It was my eighth title, but my first in the quilt market, so I was unknown and needed a big way to promote the book. I had plans for trade shows (another investment of thousands), advertising, and marketing materials. But something changed that forever.

The recession.

It hit my family with a devastating blow, as my husband is a luxury home builder, and his business halted overnight. It was as if someone had unplugged the phone from the wall, because it just stopped ringing. American consumers slapped their wallets shut, and I was in trouble, as my marketing budget was now necessary to keep my husband’s business afloat.

How was I going to sell those books?

I was forced to get creative with almost no money for marketing and promotion. I already had a blog, but I knew that wasn’t enough, on its own, to move 3,000 books. I had to do something big. I decided on a blog tour, which was almost unknown at the time. I liked it because it was an online version of a book tour, allowed me to reach an international audience, and I could conduct it over a concentrated period of time for sustained interest and demand. The result?

Color Mastery skyrocketed to #10 on Amazon’s top ten list for Quilting books, and it consistently made appearances in that top ten list over the next two years. My blog traffic increased 1,000%, sales tripled, my social network subscriptions all increased, and I received bookings for interviews, lectures, and book signings. I continued to keep up my social media efforts for those two years, selling 8,000 copies of Color Mastery, and was so successful I created a start-up helping other small businesses with their social media. SocialMediaOnlineClasses.com is an online course site where I coupled my 20 years of training experience with my social media success to teach others how to enjoy those same results.

My top three tips for any small business wanting to use social media to promote?

Be willing to make mistakes. I tried many different social media campaigns and promotions, and not all worked. You have to be willing to fail before you hit it big, so don’t quit on social media if your first experience isn’t successful. It’s often the offbeat promotions that will surprise you. Before I had the confidence to shoot YouTube videos, I made a primitive slideshow on Slideshare that continues to garner more hits than any slick video I’ve ever done. I’m almost embarrassed by its simplicity now, but it works.

Realize results take time. My blog tour was a two-week affair, but it took two months of solid preparation and planning to develop, and years of blogging to understand the medium before that. Even a short five-minute YouTube video takes time to do well and get results. Viral is an outlier, and not something you should count on. Ashton Kutcher may have millions of Twitter followers, but the rest of us build those networks everyday, one contact at a time.

Collaborate for maximum impact. The best results I’ve gotten in social media are when I collaborate with others for a true win-win. This blog post is a collaboration between Mary Ellen and me, as she has generously provided me with a guest spot. My blog tour was a collaboration of ten bloggers who promoted my book in exchange for exclusive content. My “Color-of-the-Month” shows were collaborations between quilt designers and me, and those shows continued to sell my book and keep it in Amazon’s top ten list.

Social media wasn’t in my original plans, but when I saw its results, it soon became my primary promotional tool. What’s your story of how social media has helped you and your business?

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Editor’s Note: The following video originally appeared as a guest vlog for Maria Peagler’s blog. She requested I create this to better help her clients and students who want to feel comfortable on camera. I hope it helps you as well!

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Self-Destruction WeinerI recently introduced a real-world colleague as someone “I met on twitter.” When I mentioned that to another person, who spends very little time on social media, she said, “With the Weiner scandal you better watch what you say.” Well, with all due respect ma’am, not exactly. You see, had Weiner understood the reality of twitter and its broadcast and sharing capabilities, perhaps the New York congressman would not be in the hot water he finds himself in today. The point is, my public relations and marketing work world is now located, for the most part, online. As CK Kerley said when I interviewed her in Knoxville in April, we now live in two worlds at all times. I have many colleagues whom I’ve met only online. Yet we share fabulous information regularly and have, in many cases, become friends. This TNW article highlighting the future of social media brings out that point. It links to the fantastic Amsterdam keynote by social media evangelist Robert Scoble that is well worth watching. It covers our dual world life, including increasing Klout scores and buying stock in others. How does your life now straddle two worlds?

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Tips for finding PR jobs

How to find a job in PR

It seems like every week I field a call from a desperate college student seeking my advice about how to break into public relations. I’ve answered their questions so often that I thought I would jot down a few tips that I’ve learned over my more than 20-year career in public relations.

  1. Think strategically: What is your end goal? How can you get there? Have a plan. Write it down just as you would a business plan and then work it.
  2. Seek internships: Be sure to have one; they often lead to jobs. Furthermore, they’ll help you to understand if this business is really for you. (It can be very stressful at times!) Treat an internship as if it’s a job. Be ready with a professional resume and photo. Be prepared with questions and skill sets you to have offer.
  3. Set yourself up for success: Have an outlet after your internship. Look for opportunities. Volunteer. Play up your accomplishments. Example: MarketingMel’s intern Sarah Williams was the top PR student at her community college.  That impressed me.

    MarketingMel with intern Sarah Williams

    MarketingMel with intern Sarah Williams

  4. Communicate with communicators: Communicate on their terms through their channels (and be sure to identify yourself.) Since founding MarketingMel there was only one time that a college student reached out to me in such an engaging way that I asked for a meeting with him. Yet that was how impressed I was with the abilities of David Ford. (Remember that name. I think he will go far in the advertising business!) If you want to see what the pro’s are doing listen to tweetchats like # soloPR and #journchat and say “Hello.”
  5. Study the thought leaders: Look who’s leading the way in your chosen field, in your community, and in the world. (I treasure my virtual friendships with my international friends. Judy Gombita in Toronto with PR Conversations is a great example.)
  6. Innovate: Use the latest tools and learn about new ones. The field of communications changes daily. Be sure you are running at all times to keep up with it. Is your Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn up to date? (Yes, I said LinkedIn. More than 80 percent of all headhunters are there so you need to be there as well.) Use YouTube to present yourself on video to a future employer. Skype is a another handy tool.
  7. Learn something new: Do you know a foreign language? Spend time abroad. Be open to opportunities elsewhere. There will never be a better time in your life to pick up and move somewhere and do something different. It will expose you to a new way of thinking.
  8. Show kindness: Put the phone away in class and share some real (not virtual) Facetime with your teachers and friends. This goes for our online behavior as well. Others can tell when you genuinely care about them.
  9. Follow journalists: Media relations is part of public relations. Follow your favorite journalists and engage with them. I often chat on twitter with our local morning news anchor, Josh Smith via twitter. He and I are both early risers and our friendship has deepened with our regular tweet banter.
  10. Know your strengths and weaknesses and focus on your strengths: (Now Discover Your Strengths by Buckingham and Clifton is a book well worth reading with an easy-to-take online quiz that will help you determine your top strengths.)
  11. Create your Personal Brand: Put some thought into this one and again there are some great books available (see Tom Peters and Brand You.) Remember your personal brand will follow you from job to job throughout the rest of your life.

What suggestions do you have to add to this list? Please post your comments here. I’d love to hear from you!

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Has this dog found the beef?

By now you’ve probably heard of the Taco Bell beef controversy. An Alabama law firm is suing the fast food restaurant claiming their tacos aren’t as beefed up as Taco Bell would have you think. What follows I predict will become a case study in public relations and the positive use of social media to get out ahead of a potentially negative and damaging story. In addition to a battle waged on twitter and Facebook, Taco Bell’s President Greg Creed gives an excellent YouTube video response to the lawsuit as the company waged a “Thanks for suing us” counter attack.

Meanwhile Taco Bell has comics like Stephen Colbert giving them mouthwatering amounts of free advertising on his show. There is an old adage in PR, normally used in connection with stars and starlets. It may apply here: sometimes there is no such thing as bad publicity!

The Colbert ReportMon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>Video Archive

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108 High Resolution Dark Denim Social Media Icons

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post written by Maria Peagler, a social media strategist and award winning author whom I met on twitter.

Small business owners: listen up! Before entering the social media landscape, have a strategy mapped out as to how you plan to use it. Here is your need-to-know primer on how to use social media to reach out to new and existing customers and grow your business:

  1. Identify your goal. Do you want to fill seats in your restaurant on slow nights, announce unused appointment times, or differentiate your brand from all the rest? Before you start in social media, know your purpose. That drives the rest of your decisions.
  2. Join a social network and listen. A client recently asked me what she should post on her local chamber’s Facebook Friday promotion, where local small business owners can share a short blurb promoting themselves. My advice? First, observe what other businesses are doing in that space, then improve on that. Why not shoot a thirty-second video and post it to the chamber page? I bet no one else is doing that.
  3. Learn how to use use social tools to communicate to customers regularly. If you’re posting on your Facebook page, ask for people to Like your business page or join your email newsletter. Asking clients to call you misses out on the opportunity to repeatedly communicate with them via social networks.
  4. Integrate your marketing, advertising, and social media. Include your URLs for your website and all social networks on your advertising, business cards, invoices, receipts, and door signage. And tell people about it. Social media is both an in-person and online relationship.
  5. Make your website social. Add a Facebook Like button to your webpage so people can connect with you in one click. Add your latest updates from Twitter to your webpage and add a YouTube video. Give clients the opportunity to get to know your business in multiple ways.
  6. Assign responsibility for social media. If you plan on doing your own social media, what will you give up or delegate to free up that time? Even if you are letting your staff handle social media duties, realize it takes time and you’ll need to redistribute their current workload.
  7. Set a schedule. You’re entirely too busy to remember to do it, believe me. Make a timeline to update your social media channels or meet with your publicist/soical media strategist. Stick to it. Even if you decide to do social media on your own, realize it’s wise to partner with a specialist for or special events or big promotions.
  8. Turn your challenges into opportunities. If you can’t afford TV commercials, shoot your own and post them on YouTube. Video has never been more affordable to small business, and DIY messages have authenticity slick commercials lack. Grab your Flip video camera and get creative.
  9. Have fun. Social media allows you to reach out and show your best self to your customers. Enjoy it and let them get to know you. One of my accounting clients plans on running accounting jokes on her Facebook page every so often to loosen up her firm’s image. She knows people don’t relish tax season, but her firm has a sense of humor and she wants to show it off.

Maria Peagler is the owner of Willow Ridge Media, a concierge publicity and social media agency specializing in small business. She’s an eight-time award-winning author and publisher, and writes about social media for small business at her Willow Ridge Media blog.

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