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How One Tiny Business is Dominating Social Media

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 2:01pm

Retailer The Brooklyn Circus has an award-winning social media strategy, despite having only two people dedicated to it.

Last week a group of media moguls, business leaders and entertainment stars named the best and the brightest on social media at the Shorty Awards in New York City. The award ceremony included a wide range of categories in social media excellence, from the Best Comedian to the Best Video Campaign to the Best Use of Vine.

It is definitely worth checking out the entire list of Shorty Award winners--after all, these are the individuals and companies you should be emulating on social--but one important honoree to note in particular is The Brooklyn Circus. The retail and design company (based, of course, in Brooklyn, New York) won the Shorty Award for Best Small Business on social media--even without a staggering number of tweets or social media followers.

The Brooklyn Circus didn't even have the most followers among the finalists in the small business category (The Hay Merchant, a craft beer and food company, and She's the First, a sponsor of girls' education in developing nations both had more). So how did the company, which has a social media team of just two people, bring home the Shorty? Inc. spoke with BKc founder and creative director of Ouigi Theodore about the brand's social media strategy. Here are some of the major takeaways:

Find your voice and be consistent

Theodore stresses the importance of developing a specific voice on social media that creates a unique mood. He says that you won't find BKc chiming in on what is happening in politics or around the world. "We always make sure that the voice [on social media] is the brand's voice and not Ouigi's voice or anyone else's," the founder says.

Once you find that voice, he adds, it "has to be consistent--whether it is on Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, or Tumblr, and so on and so forth. That voice has to be pretty much what we are saying offline."

Approach each platform with a strategy

It is important to understand that being consistent doesn't mean that you copy and paste a tweet to your Facebook page. BKc uses individual platforms differently. "Of course they all have to link, but every one of the platforms needs a separate strategy," Theodore says.

The BKc team's main focus is Instagram, on which it uses imagery to illustrate its brand and products. The company uses Twitter to quickly interact with customers, and views Facebook as a place to communicate with the business's older customers.

Don't focus on numbers

BKc currently has more than 23,100 Instagram followers, more than 12,600 Twitter followers, and more than 9,400 likes on its Facebook page--not a bad following, but to Theodore, these numbers are meaningless. He stresses that social media isn't a numbers game; what matters to him is how many people are actually listening to what BKc has to say.

"I know in social media, people tend to count how many, but for us it's about how many of these people are actually interested in what we are saying, will actually do what we tell them to do, and how many of them actually get the message," he says. "It is really about our ability to move a crowd."

Don't become a victim

Theodore adds that although it is important to be accessible to customers on social media, there is a line you shouldn't cross. "At the end of the day, we have to run a business. We are operating a brand. That is very important and it shouldn't take a backseat to all the people asking you questions online," he says. "We don't allow ourselves to become too available. If [a customer] asks a question, we will be more than happy to answer it, but there are some questions you just can't answer."

Categories: Small Business News

Social Media Hiring Isn't Just for Late Night TV

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 1:59pm

Seth Myers might have a leg up on most business leaders when it comes to social media recruiting.

Okay, you probably don't need to hire a comedy writer. (Though maybe the tone of your daily email slog would benefit from doing so.)

But there's still an important, if simple, recruiting message in this Vulture article about Bryan Donaldson, an IT professional from Illinois whose Twitter comedy act landed him a gig writing for Late Night With Seth Meyers.

That lesson: Social media is, indeed, a recruiting tool. And that doesn't just mean LinkedIn, the network most people associate with recruiting.

Twitter and writing gigs might be well aligned from a recruiting perspective, as seen in Donaldson's example. The social network serves as a ripe opportunity for potential recruits to show off their sense of humor or wordsmithing abilities. But it can also serve as a great opportunity to find people who are passionate about an industry, and who aren't afraid to contribute to the conversation around it.

Facebook, however, might be more broadly applicable. Stephane Le Viet, the CEO of Work4, a company that helps businesses use social media to manage talent, says Facebook is an underrated place to look for talent. While LinkedIn offers a strong user base of career-minded people, Facebook, with its billion-plus members, "inherently has skin in the recruiting game," he says.

Facebook's recent innovations, like graph search, make it possible to search for people by education and the industry they work in. Meanwhile, new ad targeting options allow companies to post job listings as advertisements and make sure they wind up in the right hands.

What's more, Le Viet says, is that studies have shown that 81 percent of Facebook users want to see jobs posted there.

A story like Donaldson's looks at first glance like a fun story from the goofy entertainment industry, walled off from everyday business.

But when it comes to having a social recruiting strategy, the rest of the business world might be the butt of the joke; only 7 percent of companies boast a formal social recruiting strategy.

Categories: Small Business News

SQL: The Hack Attack You'll Never See Coming

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 1:00pm

SQL injection attacks are among the most common security threats businesses face, and they're on the rise.

You may not have the slightest idea what an SQL injection attack is, but that's okay, you're in good company.

It turns out that SQL injection attacks are one of the most common hack attacks businesses of all sizes face, but a lot of small business owners don't really know what they are.

And like your peers, you're probably woefully unprepared to meet to the challenge SQL attacks represent, according to Ponemon Institute, the information, privacy and security researchers, which released a report about the gravity of the threat on Wednesday.

Ponemon surveyed 595 IT professionals at businesses of all sizes, ranging from less than 1,000 employees to more than 75,000 people. Twenty percent of the survey sample had fewer than 1,000 employees.

It turns out 65 percent of businesses had experienced at least one SQL attack in the previous 12 months, according to the report, and half of all businesses identified such attacks as a significant threat.

"Organizations believe they struggle with SQL injection vulnerabilities," Larry Ponemon, founder and chairman of Ponemon Institute, said in a press release, but their issues are complex.

Defining an SQL Attack

SQL is shorthand for "structured query language," a computer program that lets you search relational databases, typically used by any business with structured employee records, financial information, or information relevant to manufacturing.

An SQL attack typically occurs through a consumer facing software application, where hackers exploit coding holes and then insert malicious code inside the database itself. Intruders can then use that code to query the database, to find valuable information.

A Growing Problem

SQL attacks are on the rise. Forty percent of respondents said SQL attacks were increasing, yet nearly two thirds said they either had no knowledge at all or were not familiar with the techniques criminals use to launch the attacks, which is to bypass firewall protections that Web applications have built into them.

Despite the escalating problems, about a third of respondents say their IT personnel lack the knowledge and expertise to quickly detect and rid themselves of such an attack. More than a third said they also lacked necessary tools and technology to quickly detect an SQL injection attack.

While forty-four percent of respondents said they use outside professionals to test their Web applications for security threats, only 35 percent said they tested for SQL injection threats. Meanwhile, about half of all companies either don't check for such threats at all, or only on an irregular basis.

How to Prepare

Fortunately, there are some things you can do:

  • Run security tests on any third party software you use, especially if it is Web-facing
  • Consider installing behavioral analysis tools that examine all data base queries for irregularities that stand out from the normal operation of your business.
  • If you don't have an IT professional on staff, bring one in from outside to test your network for vulnerabilities.
Categories: Small Business News

When Cloud Computing Giants Go to War, You Win

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 11:51am

With Microsoft, Google, and Amazon slashing service fees, it may no longer be worthwhile to build your own computing systems.

As prices for cloud services drop, you may want to rethink your efforts to build your own computing and data storage systems.

According to the The Wall Street Journal, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have started a price war to lure customers to their cloud services (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Compute Engine, respectively). Last month, the three tech companies slashed their prices by as much as 85 percent within days of each other.

Research firm Gartner predicts companies will spend $13.3 billion this year on renting computing power from other providers, a 45 percent increase since 2013, the Journal reports. Although that number is still a fraction of the $140 billion companies spend a year to build their own systems, the price competition is making it harder to justify continuing to do so.

Technology-consulting firm SADA Systems estimates that a medium-sized website that gets 50 million monthly page views could spend at least $1,200 a month to buy servers and other necessary equipment, the Journal reports. If that same company were to rent its computing system from Amazon, Google, or Microsoft, the bill could range from $270 to $530 a month.

In a survey by consulting firm RightScale, 87 percent of tech executives said their companies outsource computing power for at least one task, WSJ reports.

Michael Simonsen, CEO of real-estate startup Altos Research, tells WSJ that his company uses Amazon Web Services to "crunch data on about 100 million U.S. home listings." Thanks to the warring cloud factions, his bill was cut almost in half last month.

"Nobody ever gives you a 40 percent price break overnight," Simonsen tells the paper. "Our direct benefit is the opportunity to create more products, faster."

Categories: Small Business News

Grab a Snack: Science Suggests Hot Tempers Set Off By Hunger

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:54am

Fits of anger can be be set off by temporary drops in blood glucose levels, according to recent research.

Employees' low blood sugar levels might be bad news when it comes to workplace harmony, suggests new research. According to several studies, a temporary drop in blood glucose might cause individuals to fall victim to angry and aggressive spells. In other words, they become "hangry" versions of their usual selves.

Many -- particularly those who own an "I'm Sorry For What I Said When I Was Hungry" T-shit -- will tell you it's a real phenomenon. But it's only recently that a growing body of research is making that case, according to Vox.

One study found that married couples displayed greater levels of both anger and aggression toward their spouses when they had low blood glucose levels. The researchers, who monitored 107 couples over 21 days, measured this by asking participants to stick needles into voodoo dolls representing their husbands and wives. Participants were also given the opportunity to blast their partner with loud noises like fingernails on a chalkboard and dentist drills.

"As expected, the lower the level of glucose in the blood, the greater number of pins participants stuck into the voodoo doll, and the higher intensity and longer duration of noise participants set for their spouse," the study's authors wrote.

So why does hunger cause some people to act unpleasantly toward others? Voluntary behaviors, like self-control, literally require large amounts of energy. The brain, which accepts glucose for fuel, performs less than optimally when it is glucose deficient. And this leaves you with less energy to control your actions.

In a separate study, researchers also looked at the effect that the likely fix -- i.e. sugar -- had on individuals. Again, participants were given the opportunity to blast other participants with loud noise. But this time the researchers found that those who had consumed lemonade were more compassionate and blasted other participants with softer noises than those who had drank the placebo.

Categories: Small Business News

Ask the Social Media Experts

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

Likeable Media founders Dave and Carrie Kerpen talk to Inc.com Executive Editor Laura Lorber and answer viewer-submitted questions about social media, rapid business growth, and more.

Categories: Small Business News

Why Every Business Should Be on Google+

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

Although Google+ has fewer users than other platforms, it's essential for search purposes.

Categories: Small Business News

Dave and Carrie Kerpen: Social Media Trend Watch

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

Keep an eye on erasable media like SnapChat, visual platforms like Instagram, changing Facebook demographics, and LinkedIn content dominance.

Categories: Small Business News

Turn Challenges Into Successes

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

For Carrie Kerpen, staffing for a rapidly growing company was a major challenge--but having great employees is the payoff.

Categories: Small Business News

Think of Social Media Like a Giant Cocktail Party

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

For small business owners, the first step for using social media should be connecting with your existing customers.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Turn a Wedding Into a Marketing Business

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

Dave and Carrie Kerpen were so successful in getting sponsors for their wedding that they decided to go into business together.

Categories: Small Business News

Why Leaders Need to Be Likeable

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

Dave Kerpen talks about the principles behind his new book, Likeable Leadership.

Categories: Small Business News

Get Your Team Out of the Office

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

Get your leadership team into a different environment to clear heads and figure out the next steps.

Categories: Small Business News

2 Keys to a Fast-Growing Business

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:30am

If you want your company to grow quickly, you need to focus on delivering great results and hire the right people.

Categories: Small Business News

You're No Better Than a 3-Year-Old at Reading People

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:31am

A recent study finds that children and adults have a comparable ability to assess people's trustworthiness and competence based on their appearance.

If you've hired a lot of people, you may think you've developed a knack for sizing people up just by looking at them. The truth is, you're no better at it than a toddler.

During the hiring process, if you rely on your time-honed skill or innate ability to judge a candidate's trustworthiness, competence, and dominance by reading their faces, you're giving yourself credit for an ability you don't possess. All you're doing is judging a book by its cover.

A recent study published in the research journal Psychological Science, "Inferring Character from Faces: A Developmental Study," found that discerning character traits by judging a stranger's face is not a skill developed over time, experience, or some genetic gift. In fact, the study found that children's ability to judge trustworthiness based on appearance is comparable to that of adults (it did not draw conclusion about the accuracy of the judgments).

So, the next time you judge if a candidate is competent based on a first impression, remember you might get a similar conclusion from a 3-year-old.

Categories: Small Business News

Why Your Employees Are the Single Biggest Threat to Your Company's Data

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:11am

Find out the steps you must take to prevent your employees from unwittingly exposing confidential information.

When the Heartbleed security bug was revealed last week, IT departments across almost every industry scurried to secure their infrastructure. Frighteningly, the bug, which potentially exposed customer data for more than two years, is undetectable.

Heartbleed and cyberattacks like Target have made businesses more aware of the necessity of having sufficient defenses in place to protect trade secrets, customer information, and financial data. Still, says Heather Bearfield, a cybersecurity and risk management consultant at professional services firm Marcum, companies still have a long way to go.

"When we speak with CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs, we see a huge investment, tens of thousands of dollars, to make sure their financial statements are in place. But with IT, they think they aren't a target, their infrastructure is sufficient, and they don't need to invest in security," Bearfield says. "Those are the organizations that will get hit hard. As we've seen, a breach can bring an company to its knees. You're going to see a huge shift as companies realize how important it is to support their IT department."

Below, read Bearfield's tips to prevent a data breach and save your company a lot of money in the long term.

Educate your employees.

Believe it or not, your employees are the weakest link in your digital defenses. "Human error is the highest risk to your company. Clicking bad links, stolen laptops, lost thumb drives and company phones--there are so many ways company data can be breached," Bearfield says. "Just raising employee awareness can do a lot to better protect your company."

During company consultations, Bearfield will simulate phishing attacks to show how easily your network can be compromised. A recent Verizon report finds there's a 100 percent chance that at least one out of 10 people who are sent a malicious email will click a link in it (a phenomenon it calls the "inevitable click"). She also warns that hackers are leveraging current events to entice clicks--everything from the Olympics this past winter to the Malaysian airlines search. Make sure your employees know the danger one click can cause.

Don't be stubborn about passwords.

Bearfield says many companies refuse what should be an simple security tactic to implement. "We still see so much pushback from the C-suite and sales teams on the necessity to change all passwords every 90 days. They feel like they can't remember new passwords, can't come up with a new secure one with frequency, and think the process will trip them up in their workflow," she says. "It sounds so easy, but this is actually a big issue--password security is the first layer of defense but people feel like it's impossible for them. We also suggest case-sensitive, special characters, and lockout after a certain number of attempts."

Encrypt before you ship.

Encrypting your email messages is another easy way to shore up sensitive information. "For some reason, people often see this as a negative thing [that implies their network isn't secure]. To encrypt an email, all you need to do is enter a username and password, which is maybe five to 10 seconds of your time," she says. "We have automatic encryption software that will encrypt a message if you write a string of numbers [in the body], write the word 'secure,' or other keywords." During one consultation, Bearfield says she showed a CEO how easy it was to access his email by asking him how his daughter enjoyed life after getting her braces off. "All it takes is one message before you realize how important encryption is," she says.

Dedicate more resources to IT.

IT spending is one of the most forward-thinking investments you can make in your business. "Many organizations do not dedicate resources to their IT departments. Without proper investment, these IT departments are constantly putting out fires and don't have the time or ability to address other important concerns," Bearfield says. "They can't keep up with patching, which can leave vulnerabilities exposed for weeks, or months, if not longer."

Categories: Small Business News

An (Almost) Foolproof Way to Get Customers to Spend

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 9:00am

Most new products fail. Here are three ways to you can capture customers' hearts--and wallets.

An estimated 75 percent of new products earn less than $7.5 million in their first year. How can you make sure yours is not in this woeful heap?

Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) recently analyzed 190,000 CPGs introduced in 2013 to identify the clear winners, and found that each had its innovation origins inspired by "understanding the deep context of consumer attitudes, usage and shopping habits." Across the broad spectrum of CPG categories--food and beverage, household health and beauty, and convenience items--three factors emerged as key. In order to inspire early adopters to become repeat customers and spread the word to family and friends, new products must meet critical expectations that using them gives consumers results that are fun, fast, and functional.

Here are some tips to make your product a must-have for consumers.

1. Make your product fun.

Who would have thought a healthy product like yogurt could spawn billionaires (think Chobani)? It all comes down to the success of marketing your product as fun and as the “it” product of the moment.

Take Müller Yogurt efforts. Pepsico/Quaker Oats introduced the product to the US market in 2012-2013 and made nearly $100 million in first-year sales by combining the traditional function of yogurt as a healthful fast food with a concept of fun. Its quirky European spelling is the first element of fun, and Müller’s innovative compartmentalized packaging gives consumers of choice of whimsical mix-ins such as crispy crunch and choco balls. Müller literally turned the yogurt package upside down with its additional offering of FrütUp flavors--yogurt cups with mousse-like fruit right on top, where consumers can smell and taste it right away.

So when you look at your product line and how to market, think of how to apply the fun factor to get an added sales boost.

2. Make your product easy to use.

According to IRI, consumers embrace household products that save time and money with innovative packaging: "a strong majority of 2013 home care innovation winners, 82 percent, make it easier to get household chores done. Fifty-five percent of winners make home care more convenient."

Far and away the most successful trend in this category has been the introduction of pre-measured cleansing agents for the laundry and the kitchen. Tide, ARM & HAMMER, and Purex all offered a version of a toss-in dose of detergent that eliminates the need for measuring and the mess of dripping laundry liquid. The same pod technology has taken the dishwasher detergent market by storm. This new technology also racked up some $325 million in sales for Proctor & Gamble’s Tide Pods.

Same product, different packaging. That should be a no brainer when you look across your product line and think of ways to make customers experience easier.

3. Make your product multi-purpose.

Last year's successful products delivered on their promises to consumers. The most successful ones delivered on multiple promises. In the huge (14 percent) market segment of health and beauty products, consumers look for items that save them time and money by giving them professional results from in-home preparations that condense multi-step procedures into one.

One such family of products, Proctor & Gamble's Pantene Age Defy hair treatments, had Good Housekeeping testers singing its praises: "We were certainly impressed--Age Defy shampoo/conditioner or shampoo/deep conditioner gave some of the best results we've ever seen." Evidently consumers agree. Reports Procter & Gamble: "Pantene Expert Collection Age Defy Advanced Thickening Treatment launched in North America in January 2013 at a premium price and is already the #1 treatment in the Salon Inspired segment of the Hair Care category."

Why was P&G so successful? It was able to convince consumers its product was doing double duty. Think of your roster of products, and see if any can be used in unique ways that the one you are currently pitching.

You don’t have to radically alter your product line to get great sales--take a look at your current line-up and see how a more fun marketing approach, ease of use and multi-purpose approach can change the way you sell the product to customers. Sales are sure to follow.

Categories: Small Business News

The Power of Stopping for No Good Reason

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 8:36am

Because sometimes the best reason is no reason at all

The first thing the old man said to me was, "The cows don't come by here anymore."

A few years ago, I liked to ride my bike on the roads that snake along a local mountain range. The views were beautiful, and there were plenty of hills to climb. It was friendly and country (in the best sense of the word), and the people sitting on their front porches always waved.

One old man was almost always sitting alone, and I made a point of waving to him.

Then one day, caught in a driving rain, I glanced sideways and saw him waving me off the road and onto his porch. I leaned my bike on the rail and clomped up the steps as he pulled a dusty wooden chair from behind an old coal box for me to sit on.

And then he started talking.

He told me the cows used to slowly drift by every day as they grazed the fencerow across the road. (His favorite was an older cow that always pushed her head through the fence as if to see whether the grass really was greener on the other side.) Why they no longer came by was a puzzle he had yet to solve.

He told me his mail was delivered every day at about the same time. He could tell how his carrier's day was going by the size of her smile. He told me he knew the lack of rain had hurt local farmers because lately they hadn't been hauling nearly as many hay rolls. He told me the girl up the road had just gotten her driver's license. Whenever he saw her go by, he tried to watch for her to come home because he worried about young drivers.

He also talked about me.

"Some days you ride that thing a little like that cancer fella I used to see on TV, but most of the time you look like somebody stuck me on there," he said. Then he smiled, taking any sting out.

As he spoke, I thought he seemed lonely, almost desperately so. Then I realized he wasn't lonely, at least not in the way I assumed. Though he had met very few of the people he watched go by, his porch still gave him a very real connection to his community.

He could tell when neighbors were getting company and was happy they had friends who wanted to visit. He enjoyed watching families drive by on their way to church, even though Sundays were bittersweet because the mail didn't come and he didn't get to wave to his carrier. He even worried about me, until that day a stranger, because he thought it was dangerous for people to ride bicycles near cars.

He watched and wondered, but not in a nosy or critical way. He seemed to only see the good in the people he saw from his porch.

And that was why, on a couple of cloudless days, I would stop and visit instead of waving and riding by. I wouldn't bring food or a token gift, even though that's what people like me tend to do in return for kindness or courtesy. Instead I just stopped to find out what was new.

Maybe he would tell me the local farmers' crops were doing better. Maybe he'd tell me the young girl up the road was still safe. Maybe he would have puzzled out why the cows didn't come by anymore.

It didn't matter. He just wanted to talk. I could tell. He always left my chair out.

And then one day my chair was gone.

So was his chair. So were the tools scattered around the yard, the old Buick in the driveway, the worn curtains in the windows.

And so was he.

How often had I stopped? How often had I sat and listened? How often had I taken time away from work and fitness and personal goals and striving for success to be a friend to someone who clearly needed a friend?

Not often enough. Not nearly often enough.

We all have people in our lives that leave a chair out for us, only to die a little inside when that chair sits empty.

Once in a while--before it's too late for you, or for them, or for your relationship--take the time to stop and sit and visit for no good reason...

... which, when you think about it, is the best reason of all.

More in my "The Power Of..." series:

Categories: Small Business News

Show the Love: How Customers Reward Responsive Brands (Infographic)

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 8:14am

More than 90 percent of customers are more inclined to make a purchase after reading a brand's response to feedback.

What exactly is the value of responding to customer feedback? Column Five used survey data from Bazaarvoice, a user-review software company, to answer that question with the infographic below.

Categories: Small Business News

How to Conquer the Unique Challenges of Running a Family Business

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 8:01am

President and CEO of Stew Leonard's reveals a powerful principle that will bring success to a family business

Categories: Small Business News