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Social media is not free, but it is very economical!  A lot of the tools - Twitter, Facebook, blogs, are free to sign-up for and use, but in order to have more impact on your target audience, some small investments need to be made. Below a describe some of the expenses associated to the main social media tools.

Twitter is free to sign-up for and use, but it is important to customize your background to be branded for your business. There are free tools to do this, or a small investment can be made by hiring a designer, which would typically leverage existing materials you already have for your website (colors, logo, etc).

A Facebook Page (for business) is free to sign-up for and use.  There are a few tricks to get it set-up correctly and it is important that it is branded for your company. Since there are limitations to the amount of branding you can do, this is generally just your logo. More complex pages require HTML.

Depending on the blogging tool you select, it is either free or has a minimum monthly fee. Although it is important to brand your blog, here, content is king.  The blog does not have to be overly designed, but there should be some reflection of your company or personality.  This can literally be done with a single photograph of stock photo and does not have to involve an entire blog design.  If you choose to do an entire blog design, there is a cost associated to that, but it is not exorbitant.

Newsletters are not traditionally considered social media, however, more and more businesses are using it to distribute the information that they produce on their blogs. The newsletter serves as a mixture of information and a driver to the website. The tool is usually not free, but has a small monthly cost associated with it.

For all of the tools above, depending on how comfortable you are using them, you may need the assistance of a social media coach or strategist (hey, like me!) There are best practices and tricks of the trade you may want to consider investing in by hiring a consultant. This should not cost you a limb and can set you off on the road to success more quickly.

One last thing, although in terms of dollars, social media may be very inexpensive, there is a labor cost associated with it in terms of your time. Social media does require some of your time.  There are methods to ensure that your time is used in a highly impactful way, but there is still a time investment that does need to b made.  The results, however, far outweigh the costs.

 
 
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Although there are those who say that Twitter is a good tool for job hunting, the majority of people, including myself, would argue that hands down, the most efficient and effective social media tool for job hunting is LinkedIn.

This tool is not only a fantastic professional networking platform, but also it has a great jobs listing area. So if you have found yourself recently unemployed, fear that you may be soon, or are considering leaving your current job on your fruition, you should have a LinkedIn profile.

Key things to do:

1. Complete your profile. Fill out as much as you possibly can.  Stuck on what to say or how to say it? Use the LinkedIn search tool to find other people with similar background and see how they did theirs! Make sure you create a user-friendly public profile url that you can add to your resume and cover letter.

2. Add connections.  Go through your professional and personal email lists and invite as many people as makes sense to invite. You can save your email contacts into a .csv file (most email programs will do that) and import it into LinkedIn. Or you can enter them manually.  Think of a message that you want to include with the invite. LinkedIn provides a standard invite, but make it more personal by adding more information.

3. Get recommendations. Once you starting getting connections, take a look and see who may be a good candidate for getting a recommendation.  It can be a former boss, colleague, employee, vendor, you name it.  Written recommendations are a thing of the past, LinkedIn profiles are much more effective.  Word of caution, don't send out a whole bunch of requests at once.  Spread them out by requesting a couple a day otherwise LinkedIn will think you are spamming.

4. Join Groups.  Search the groups area for groups in your area of expertise/job experience/interest. You can do a key word search and get a list of groups. Take a look and join ones that you think will be beneficial to you. You will be then be in contact with people within your industry who are sharing resources and discussion topics.  You may find a job connection there. 

5. Answer questions. There are a lot of people within the LinkedIn network who are looking for answers to questions or who are seeking resource information.  Do a search on your area of expertise/job experience/interest and see what types of questions people are asking.  Can you answer any of them? If you can, this is a great way to gain exposure and raise your credibility within your field.  You might also just find someone who may hire you for that expertise.

6. Search Jobs. Finally, LinkedIn has a great jobs search area.  Last year when I was looking for a new full time job, I used a paid service that was supposed to be exclusive.  However 2 of the 3 jobs that I eventually interviewed for I found on LinkedIn (even though they did show up the paid service too). The jobs are good qualified jobs by companies who believe is a good place to find good people.  In addition to the jobs within the LinkedIn network, there is also a consolidation of jobs from engines. Simply click on the tab labeled "The Web" after you search on job titles and you will also see additional jobs from these engines.

By following these steps you will be armed and ready to go!


 
 
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Recently I participated in the Problogger's 31 Days to Build a Better Blog project for my personal blog. It was a very enlightening project that I highly recommend for any blog (either business or personal that is at 6 months old. It is not something that you have to complete in 31 days.  Think of it as 31 lessons to refine/enhance/improve your blog.

The cool thing is that Darren Rowse of Problogger has put together the 31 tasks into a neat notebook which also includes bonus material that is not on his website.

I plan on using this workbook as an audit for my blogs every 6 months and I think it is useful enough for you as well!

 
 
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Have a website or other online presence but have mainly offline clients? Want to train them to "move" online? Going to an event where you want to leave a physical brand impression that will get people to your website, Facebook group, blog or to follow you on Twitter? Enthusem offers a great solution for bridging your offline and online communications.

With enthusem you can create branded note cards with whatever messaging you want. Inside the card is your copy plus a pick up code to get your attachment.  The attachment can actually be a file - like if you were presenting at a conference and you wanted to offer the slides - or a specific url - you can direct people to a website, a blog, a promotion page, whatever you like.

I have had two experiences with enthusem, both interesting. The first was a card I received from Global Hugs Tour when I checked into my hotel for SOBCon at the beginning of May. It was a nice welcome card that directed me to the enthusem website where I entered a code printed into the card and was directed to a web page that gave highlighted the Global Hugs Tour project.

My second experience was when I received a card from the founder, Steve, after I followed him on Twitter (@enthusem). Instead of a generic DM, I got this card in the mail, which was much more personal and had more impact. It is more personal than a cookie cutter email and it provides a extra brand impression.

It costs $60 to send out 25 cards and $210 to send out 100. There are other amounts to which you can see on their site.

I highly recommend using enthusem as part of your offline and online communication strategy.

 
 

I first learned about Lijit at a blogging conference in February. I didn't pay much attention because I thought it was a paid service. As a small business owner who needs to manage expenses like everyone else, it did not seem like a must-have. But as the posts started stacking up on my personal blog there were times when writing new posts that I wanted to link to an older post, and that started to be a pain. So I went over to the Lijit website and checked it out. And you know what? It's free!

Lijit is a free search tool that can be easily added to your blog, and you can set it up to search any site you have, but not only that but you can add blogs on your blog roll too as well. That is part of the concept, to provide search to sites that you trust. People don't have to worry about what is going to be on the other end of the link that they click on. The search results will be from a trusted source and it provides further legitimacy (get it...lijit..) to your content and the content you endorse.


 
 

I have had a couple of requests for this, so I thought I would make it this week's post.

Do you check yourself or your business on Google? Google is every brand's new home page. If you are not checking out what comes up in the search results you are missing out on a very effective tool. What about your competitors? What about industry news? There is a very simple, powerful and free - tool that is available to everyone. The Google Alert.

To begin, go to the Google Alerts main page.

Next, enter the search words you want (one set at a time) and choose the type, how often and to what email address you want it delivered to and click on the Create Alert button.  Having used the tool for awhile, I suggest the following words of advice, for type select comprehensive gives you the best view of all media types, you would be amazed and the interesting blog stories or videos I have come across. For frequency, if it is a highly unique term, like your business, then selecting "as it happens" should not be too overwhelming, but for more generic industry or trending terms, you will want to go with "once a day" otherwise your in-box will be flooded!

You will then get a page that lists your Alerts. At the bottom of the list, there will be a link to create additional ones.  And that is pretty much it!

P.S. Yahoo also has an alert tool, but I don't find the results to be as good, or the tool as easy to use.

 
 

I was in a Adobe DreamWeaver class today.  I have been using the product for years, I am self-trained, but as I recently learned, sometimes there are really cool tips and hints that you can pick up on a program even if you are self-taught. You never stop learning!

However this post is not about DreamWeaver, but rather stock photography. Today I learned about a great site, unknown to most, for stock photography that is free! The instructor for the class who also builds websites on the side (it seems everyone has a side business these days!) showed me this site. It is called Stock Xchng, it has a large inventory of stock photos.

Go to the site, search on what you need. When the search results come up, ignore the first couple of lines which are marked Premium (a.k.a. to buy) and the rest of the photos are free for the taking.  If you decide you like one of the premium photos, they are really inexpensive, so splurge a little!  You will have to register an account, but once you do, you can download at will. 

Caution - the images will be large and you will need to use a program to re-size them.  To do this, you NOT have to buy Adobe Photoshop at $800...instead, go to gimp.org (created by Adobe engineers several years ago) and download that software for free and you will be able to re-size your image.

So there you have it, free stock photo and bonus...free software to size it to the dimensions you need.

Happy photo hunting!


 
 

Today's free and fun tool serves two purposes. Firstly, have a certain username in mind and want to see if it is available across multiple social media tools before making a final decision? Go to CheckUsersNames.com, plug in what you are thinking about into the "Check User Name" field and you are done! The results will come back with the availability on the various sites.

Now the second added bonus. Want to get an idea of some of the most popular social media tools? Simply take a look at the list provided and explore. Remember, don't get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of platforms out there!  You do not have to be on everyone, and you shouldn't be!  But there might be one or two that fit your business market that that might be interesting to you.

Happy exploring!


 
 

There is a new, completely free tool that will make full back-ups of your blog. You simply go to  Blog Backup Online sign-up for an account, activate your account from a confirmation email they send you, enter your blog url and you are DONE!

If you are using any of the main blogging platforms like Blogger, Wordpress or Typepad there are ways to back-up your blog, but it can be a little tricky and you have to remember to do it. With this cool new tool, once you register your blog, your done. The blog will be backed up on a daily basis and for free.

It is one of those things that you hope you never have to worry about, but I have heard my fair share of horror stories from fellow bloggers who lost all their content and design changes. So practice a little (free) preventive measure that can save you a lot of grief.

Happy blogging!