Expert Interview with Ami Neiberger-Miller of Steppingstone LLC on Internet Business Strategies For Small Businesses And Non-Profits

Internet business strategiesWe are living in interesting times as far as the business world is concerned. The interconnectivity of the Internet allows smaller businesses to compete with the majors with many of the same tools and resources.

That means even the smaller businesses must have a clear, streamlined business strategy in place to even survive, let alone flourish and achieve their goals.

Steppingstone LLC is a dedicated PR firm that is specifically focused on small businesses and non-profits, helping them get to where they want to be.

Steppingstone LLC's Ami Neiberger-Miller took a moment to tell us about this interesting point in history and how to take advantage of it, and also share some insights and behind-the-scenes glimpses into Steppingstone LLC's methodology to help you streamline your own business strategy.

Can you tell us a bit about Steppingstone LLC for people who aren't familiar with your company? When did you get started? Where are you based out of? What inspired you to start your own marketing company?

My touchstone phrase this year for our company is "Be inspiring." I want for us to be inspired by the work we do through public relations, writing and creative design services, and for us to be creative about doing it.

I founded Steppingstone LLC in 2003, and while we are based in the Washington, D.C. metro area, we have clients outside the D.C. market and even around the world. I started the company because I noticed that many organizations, especially nonprofits, associations and small businesses, struggle to communicate effectively. I find that many people who call us are often stressed and do not see how their daily workload helps them accomplish their goals. Many people feel like they are "treading water" in a sense, but not getting their organization or small business where it should be. Our role is to relieve them of that stress, deliver quality services and resources, and take them toward their goals.

What do you feel differentiates you from the other marketing companies that are out there?

I find that many clients struggle with strategy; they know they need a website or a social media presence or media outreach, but they do not know what they want to get out of those things. We are different because we work to help a client focus on strategic objectives, not just a list of tasks. We talk about audience and being strategic in outreach and messaging. We also value personalized service. It's important to us that you know the real people who work on your account.

Who is Steppingstone LLC's main audience, and what are some ways you meet their specific needs?

Nonprofit organizations (staff and volunteers tasked with communication or development/fundraising functions), professional association staff, and small business owners are our primary audiences. We meet their communication needs in a variety of ways. For a nonprofit organization, that might mean that we manage media relations on their behalf and coordinate all of their engagement with the press, or oversee a campaign for them. For an association, that might mean we are designing a printed publication for them or helping them draft a social media engagement strategy (when they had none). For a small business, that might mean that we work collaboratively with them to design a website that sells products and presents their brand story well, and also write a publication or materials that they need.

You wrote a blog post recently about Facebook's Organic Reach being toast. First of all, why is that? Secondly, what are some ways that you advise people to adjust their marketing campaigns?

In my blog post, I discussed how Facebook uses algorithms to show you the content it thinks you want to see, and how Facebook recently changed its algorithms to show more content and fewer posts that are ads or self-promotional. Even if you "like" a page and it updates regularly, you may not see it in your feed if Facebook thinks you prefer other types of content. This loss of "organic reach" has caused some consternation, especially among those not accustomed to paying for advertising to "boost" their Facebook page posts. Many of the people who invested time and resources into building an audience on Facebook now feel like they can't reach that audience because of these algorithm changes. But you can adjust your strategy on Facebook and elsewhere to be successful.

First, your posts need to be useful to people and focus on providing helpful information, not just consist of ads or be purely self-promotional. Looking at your page insights to see what posts are getting traction (and what time of day people are engaging) is also helpful. Consider spending a little money to boost posts and see what the results are. You should also create an expectation among your supporters that you will share valuable and useful information on Facebook. Then encourage them to deliberately visit your Facebook page while improving your other social media and email channels too.

You also wrote a post recently about seven good reasons for a company to have a blog. What are a few of those reasons? How can a blog bring in new customers and help to establish an identity within their industry?

A blog forces you to think strategically about your field and your industry, so it's a great professional growth tool; but it also shows your personality and thoughts in a public forum. It provides content you can feed and cycle onto social media; and I have had clients remark to me that they read my blog, and had reporters call me because they read a client's blog and wanted to interview someone who wrote for that blog. So blogging can add a lot of value to your bottom line and your brand. Read more in my blog post.

A little after the new year, you had a post about five behaviors to avoid on Twitter. What were a few of these behaviors and why avoid them?

Educating yourself about Twitter and how it operates was one of the tips I offered in that blog post. It's important to not only talk about yourself on Twitter. I see this often with new book authors, business owners or nonprofits joining Twitter. The newbies post every 5 minutes a commercial reminder telling the world to buy their book, offer their services like an ad, or share only about donating money to a cause. You need to answer the question of "Why?" Why should someone care about your book, product, business or organization? Educating yourself about Twitter, hashtags and how people connect and relate in that forum can go a long way to helping you plan your strategy.

Which social media sites do you prefer for actually getting new customers and sales?

I find that all social media sites can help build your brand and share who you are. But some platforms are more effective depending on what you are selling and who you want to talk to. I personally prefer to use Twitter, LinkedIn and my blog on my website to attract new customers and followers, but we also use Facebook for our business and other platforms. I think you have to think about social media channels as building relationships that can lead to business.

Can you give our readers five quick Twitter tips to increase their followers and raise brand awareness?

  • Try to tweet every day, at least a few times.
  • Share information that is useful to others.
  • Re-tweet other people you find interesting.
  • Participate in a Twitter chat once a week on a topic that relates to your industry - this gets your username out there for others to see.
  • Be yourself - even in 140 characters or less - personality can show.

Do you have any advice for businesses or marketers to showcase their product or business without being pushy or spammy?

Do things that are fun and show your excitement in what you post. If you are excited about what you do, other people will be too. Talk honestly about what you are doing in your business and share your products. But do that within the context of talking about your industry and your brand and sharing content from other people, too. That doesn't mean you need to share your top competitor's tweets on your feed, but try to mix up your content stream so a variety of information is being shared. Also, try blogging to give you more content to share in social media.

In your experience, what are the best times to post on Twitter for businesses? What about Facebook?

Twitter I find is very active in the morning and afternoon, but that afternoon stretches into early evening because of the time zones. I use auto-scheduling software to help me keep information going out all day. One could argue that posting in the off hours - late at night or on the weekend - will get you more attention because you are competing with fewer people for attention.

Facebook is very active toward the end of the work day, in the early evenings, and on the weekend. So if you publish a blog post on Monday morning, you might want to wait until Monday afternoon to share it. I wrote about these "golden hours" on a blog post in 2012, and I think much of the advice still holds. The most important piece of advice, though, is to do what works for you. Facebook pages provide analytics, and you can tell from your Twitter feed when you are being re-tweeted or getting interaction. Keep doing what works for you, and don't be afraid to try something else if you need to.

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