Social Media in Business

Even by the internet’s rapid standards, the rise of Social Media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Stumbeupon has been nothing short of meteoric.

With hundreds of millions of people worldwide using social networks regularly (Facebook now has 200 million active users) and their popularity continuing to grow on a daily basis, they represent a massive marketing opportunity to switched-on business.

In Exeter, Social Media is taking off with a large group of users networking regularly together. Next month sees the first social media conference in Devon organised by my friend @scottgould. Optix Solutions are amongst the sponsors and are very excited about hearing and meeting @treypennington and @thebrandbuilder who are both flying over from America especially for the event. Tickets by the way can be bought here:

The big question for me, is still whether or not a brand can embrace Social Media as well as a person can. I believe there is room for both and there is no question that many high profile businesses have done extremely well from Social Media. Dell, Starbucks and Google all use Twitter well but is there a case for smaller SME’s to make it work for them?

My Opinion: YES! MOST DEFINATELY and I’ve experienced this with my own business. However, whether you run a business or a personal account there are certain ways to go about things and certain etiquette you need to get used to. Within Optix, we encourage our staff to have their own blogs/twitter accounts/social media pages and without a question of doubt this has lead to stronger relationships with our clients who are also using social media and to new work and relationships with people we would almost certainly never have come across without it.

Here are the twitter feeds of some of the guys in Optix (oh and Optix own one is @optixsolutions – we use this for info on our business, special offers, news and site launches):

My Own Twitter Account: @banksy6
Al Gleave (Bus Dev): @alpenwest
Kris Sousa (Sales/Support): @kristensousa
Nick Watson: (Developer) @nickizzle

There is so much I could say about Social Media and Twitter in particular but I’m aiming this at new business owners and entrepreneurs so lets just set you along the right path with some good solid advice on why you need to start thinking about Social Media in your business.

Here are Banksy’s top 5 tips for making social media work for you.

1). Allow people to share your business successes and stories with others – FOR FREE! You can do this by adding a tool to pages on your website that allow anyone surfing, to very quickly share your content with others. Popular tools include Share This and Add This both of which do the job more than adequately. If you’re not sure what I mean by this then take a look at the Devon Air Ambulance website that my company Optix Solutions have just launched and scroll right down to the bottom of the page. You will see a green icon with ‘share this’ written next to it. Click it and see how easy it is to share that website on Facebook/Twitter and many, many other websites out there. Think now of the power of just one or two users sharing that website with potentially hundreds or maybe even thousands of trusted contacts and friends that they have on their own networks. Its almost a no-brainer to have this added to your website these days. If you don’t know how to add it or need help then drop me a line :)

2). Build contacts, relationships and networks online – I’m sure if you’re starting a business, in your early years as a business or an entrepreneur of any kind, you are probably networking offline? Am I right? Well Twitter and other social networks allow you to find people with similar interests and values and then connect with them. The rest is up to you as it would be offline. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a short-term gain, its not. Invest in social media and you’ll reap the rewards later.

3). Leverage social media for your other forms of marketing – Social Media is a great way of generating traffic for your blog or website. Users may then go on and look around other services you have to offer on these websites. In fact, although this blog is starting to get a good reputation with the search engines, the largest referrer of traffic to it each time I post is Twitter. This is because I put the word out to my network each time I post and people visit….which is great:)!

4). Become known as a ‘thought leader’ – This is really about building authenticity in your brand – be it personal or business. It’s a brave/stupid person that tries to sell directly from social media – it just doesn’t work. You need to show others that your posts/tweets/content can be thought provoking and hopefully interesting  so they will engage with you if they feel it’s right to do so. Don’t push marketing material out to them too much or you’ll simply lose followers and contacts.

5). Even if you don’t believe in social media yourself, others do and they could be talking about you or asking for help. There are a myriad of tools out there which allow you to monitor mentions of phrases, including your own brand. I for example, have tools set up to monitor mentions of my company name as well as my own name. Our company monitors local tweets, and anything to do with people looking for web design work.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this is not meant to be, in anyway a full break down of social media and what it can do for you, its merely a teaser. I do hope in the future to focus on the individual networks and go into a bit more depth for you on how to get the best from each of these, however in the mean time I recommend reading the Chris Brogan’s blog post on social media here for some great tips:

Consider today what you want to achieve from social media, consider your audience and which sites they might be using and then put together a plan for yourself and of course, if you need help – drop us a line. Good luck.

Web Design Company in Exeter – Early Optix

A lot of people have asked me how Optix Solutions came to be, so I thought I’d write a quick post on how it happened.

The year was 1999 and myself, James and two friends were all studying computer science at Exeter University. The course didn’t actually include web design although one of our lectures did look at web technologies and  of course we used the net for much of our research. Now bear in mind these were pre-google days! I know, hard to imagine isn’t it! I think Google may have been invented but it was all about AltaVista in those days. Its funny because QXL seemed bigger in the auction world than Ebay then as well. How times have changed! :)

I find it hard to remember back to how the conversations about starting a business began but with a father who is a business mentor/coach by trade I wouldn’t mind betting that I had something to do with the idea! Originally four of us discussed the idea of starting a web design business but we were in our second year at the time and I think the fact we had exams and lectures to worry about meant that one of the guys wasn’t really ever going to committ. The three of us that did take it more seriously did everything we could to tap up family and friends for business and started to build a portfolio. We owe so much to these clients who gave us a chance and allowed us to build a reputation in order that we could go out and start showing other businesses what we could do. As we progressed through our 3rd year we had some big decisions to make. As IT graduates, 20k+ starting salaries in London and other places around the UK called and by this time we had realised just how hard this ‘business malarky’ was going to be. When we started out, it was around the time of the dot com bubble and we all thought we could make a lot of money out of web design. Very naively we hadn’t quite taken into account just how hard a business is to run.

Why Exeter? I’m originally from Chelmsford in Essex, James is from the Isle of White and our third director hailed from Oxford so there was no particular place to go back and start up and so we decided to stay in Exeter. By this time we were also being supported by Exeter University and in particular the business division in the Innovation Centre on the main campus. They were really behind us and again we owe a lot to their support.

Pretty much the day after we graduated and all our friends were still celebrating their degree results we started Optix proper. The three of us managed to rent a largish house in central Exeter near the Imperial with four bedrooms  – one each and one that we setup as an office. We had three desks in triangle shape with a printer in the middle perched on a set of drawers. There was barely enough room to get to each of the desks to sit down! Now this was the days of dial-up and as we had no money we could only afford to get one phoneline in which meant we had to share this between the phone (used for incoming and outgoing sales calls), the fax (yes they were used quite a bit in those days) and the dialup for all three of our computers! As a web design company this was really quite tricky :) I remember constant battles for the line as someone wanted to upload a a new design, another needed to research something and I wanted to make calls to try and get some business in. It all seems quite comical now but I remember just how stressful it could get.

We stayed at that house for about 6 months and were then forced to move. We went into the serviced offices in Exeter Queensgate House – The South West Business Centre. I remember that day fondly as Mike Purton took a punt on us and gave us the office in the attick (about 4 floors up). I don’t think Mike and his team really thought we were going to be there long but we ended up being there (in two different offices) for about 8 years :) As a startup business with very little money it’s hard to comitt to long leases so look for these kind of serviced offices in your town (you just pay one bill every month to include your rent/rates/electricity/water etc) It’s also a case of ‘easy in/easy out’ where you only have to give 30 days notice if you need to move – a must for cash strapped businesses.

So thats the story of ‘early Optix days’ folks. I hope that if you’re reading this at University or school and thinking about starting your own business it gives you the inspiration to give it a go and of course if I can help you in any way please drop me a line.