Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

Cheap Travel Deals: Interview with Hanz and Hachelle Pena, Owners (part 3)

August 12, 2010
  1. Please retweetAre you looking to hire in the coming year?
    Hanz: Absolutely, especially when the Cheap Travel Deals begins to expand.
  2. What have you done to go the extra mile for your client?  Please explain.
    Hanz: This happened to me when I was still at the Santa Clarita location.  It was a Saturday.  We had 20 reservations for rental cars.  Our area manager did not provide us with enough cars.  I foresaw that this was going to be a problem as we were provided just 10 cars to cater to 20 reservations.  Sure enough, by around 11AM to 11:30, we ran out of cars, and there were still 10 people without cars.  What I did was call the area manager and location manager and asked them, “What do you want us to do?  We didn’t receive any more cars.”  I waited for a callback from them but did not receive one within 15 minutes, so I told my co-worker to get all the addresses of the still-carless customers.  We were forced to close early so I could find more cars for the customers.  Take note, there wasn’t even a company car that I could use to drive my colleague to get the cars from surrounding locations and deliver them to the customers.  Basically, despite a shift of 9AM-12PM, my colleague and I worked until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  I was driving my own car, taking my colleague to North Hollywood and back to the customer and back to North Hollywood again.  North Hollywood only gave us with three cars, so I called Burbank Airport.  I begged them, “You know, I have gold members and they have advanced reservations.  I cannot say no because they have reservations.”  So from 11:45AM-4PM, that’s what I’ve been doing.  I didn’t even think about getting reimbursed for gas or getting paid for the mileage for my own personal vehicle.  On top of that, I was off the clock.  If that is something I would have done for somebody else’s business, what more would I do for my own business?
    Hachelle:  Two weeks ago, I had a customer who bought a plane ticket to Costa Rica.  She’s an elderly lady.  She called and said that she needed a plane ticket to Costa Rica, adding that she “was traveling on her own”.  I told her, “Do you have Internet access?”  She replied, “Umm, I’m too old for that.  I can’t do that.”  I told her, “Okay, I’ll do it for you.  I’ll book you online.  Just check your email and print your ticket.”  She said, “I don’t have a printer.”  I told her, “Okay, I’ll print the tickets for you and I’ll just mail them to you.”  She said, “No, I want the tickets now.”
    Hanz: Luckily, she was local.
    Hachelle: Yes, luckily, she lived here in Valencia, so I told her, “I’ll just drop the ticket off.  Give me your address, and my husband and I will go to your home, and we will drop off your ticket.”

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Francis M. Unson

Cheap Travel Deals: Interview with Hanz and Hachelle Pena, Owners (part 2)

August 11, 2010
  1. Please retweetWhat is the niche that makes you stand out above everybody else?
    Hachelle: I worked with Princess Cruises for about three years, so I have extensive knowledge about cruises and land tours.
    Hanz: I have been with Hertz Rental for over four years.  Being in customer service, I realized that the key to succeeding in customer service is to make your customers happy.  There is no better reward than to see that face on your customer.
    Hachelle: Both of us have customer service experience and backgrounds in my former job and his current job.
  2. What products and/or services do you offer?
    Hachelle: We offer lots of products such as 3- and 7-day cruise packages.  We also offer extensive land and sea tours throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia.  If you’re really adventurous, we even offer an African Safari.
  3. What kind of promotions do you have?
    Hachelle: We have lots of weekly and monthly promotions with cruise lines and special rates for flights and hotels through Montrose.
    Hanz: We also offer special discounts of 15% for rental cars.
  4. What do you like about working in the Santa Clarita Valley?
    Hanz: Compared to other cities or towns I have lived in, the Santa Clarita Valley is a very, very family-oriented town.  It’s the environment I want to raise a family in, especially with my two-year-old daughter.
    Hachelle: I love that this town is very family-oriented.
  5. In terms of your business, what are you looking forward to in the coming year?
    Hanz: We are looking to expand and grow the Cheap Travel Deals, providing travel services to the Santa Clarita Valley, nationwide and, eventually, worldwide.

    (to be continued…)

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Francis M. Unson

Cheap Travel Deals: Interview with Hanz and Hachelle Pena, Owners (part 1)

August 6, 2010
  1. Please retweetWhat are your names?
    Hanz and Hachelle Pena
  2. What is the name of your business?
    The Cheap Travel Deals
  3. What year did you establish your business?
    2010
  4. How did you go about getting your business started?
    Hachelle: We went through a host agency called Montrose Travel, so we are basically an independent contractor affiliated with them.

    (to be continued…)

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Francis M. Unson

The Cheap Travel Deals

August 4, 2010

Picture this: You are planning a trip for your family, hoping to find and book cheap flights, airline tickets, cheap hotels, vacations and rental cars on your own.  However, instead of going through a travel agency, you decide to book all parts of the trip individually.  After much research, you find out about the flights, car rentals, hotels, and attractions at your dream destination.  Just days before the trip, you think you have covered everything.  You and your family go on the trip, but you have a nagging suspicion that you may not have booked the cheapest flight or hotel, or that the additional destinations of a land tour that you paid extra for were included for that other family who happens to be on vacation, as well.

Leave the planning of your next vacation to the Cheap Travel Deals.  They will help you book travel for less with specials on cheap airline tickets, hotels, cruises, car rentals, and flights.

Hachelle and Hanz Pena

If you would like to avoid the uncertainty of not getting the most out of your travel dollar, leave the planning of your next vacation to the Cheap Travel Deals.  Hanz and Hachelle Pena established the Cheap Travel Deals in 2010 with the goal of helping people book travel for less with specials on cheap airline tickets, hotels, cruises, car rentals, and flights.  Due in large part to the Penas’ background in customer service, the Cheap Travel Deals can provide expert information covering far more than just travel destination information.  Whether you are an individual business traveler, honeymooning couple, family, company in need of a corporate travel management partner, or a business in need of group travel arrangements, you can turn to Hanz and Hachelle Pena to make all the arrangements for you and provide you exceptional customer service with a personal touch.  Booking through them also gives you access to a number of special deals available only through them such as:

  • 15% discount on car rentals
  • Domestic and international flight promotions
  • Exclusive special value hotel rates
  • Guaranteed lowest price when you purchase your cruise or vacation package through them

Give them a call, book that vacation you’ve been putting off, and the Penas of the Cheap Travel Deals will take care of the rest.

Leave the planning of your next vacation to the Cheap Travel Deals.  They will help you book travel for less with specials on cheap airline tickets, hotels, cruises, car rentals, and flights.

Hanz and Hachelle Pena, manager/owner of the Cheap Travel Deals
Phone: 661.310.0282
Website: http://www.thecheaptraveldeals.com

Email: questions [AT] thecheaptraveldeals [DOT] com

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Francis M. Unson

The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan

July 22, 2010

Why has social media secured a firm hold in our personal and professional lives?  One of the main reasons involves the role that online communication tools had played in the past and the expansion of that role over time.  Online communication tools such as email, messaging services, and social networking sites were originally designed to keep friends and family in touch with one another.  Over time, businesses began using these tools to communicate with customers and peers.  Social media, while offering the immediacy of email, also allowed businesses to maintain a public dialogue with existing customers, new customers, suppliers, and the competition.  For customer-oriented businesses, social media can provide businesses a progressive, proactive edge in developing customer rapport.  The marketing role that social media provides, therefore, must be treated seriously and that a thorough, well-thought out social media plan must be put in place so that businesses make the most of their time and effort.  The previous blog, “The Social Media Evolution – Part 1: Understanding Social Media”,  dealt with understanding social media regardless of technical background.  This blog deals with the concerted effort to design and implement a social media plan once everybody in a business has been educated about social media.  If management or your employees have varying degrees of experience with social media, I highly recommend reading Part 1 first.

"The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan", deals with the concerted effort to design and implement a social media plan once everybody in a business has been educated about social media.In order to make the most of social media marketing, companies must create a social media plan, tailor-made to the organizational culture of the company as well as its industry.  Social media marketing plans should look very familiar in language and tone to marketers who write marketing plans for their companies.  When business owners, managers, and employees create a social media plan, they should treat it as an extension of the current marketing plan.  There are 14 things that companies must consider when creating their social media marketing plan:

Identifying the marketing needs the business would like to address with social media

Simply put, businesses exist to make money, so they must consider if investing additional time and money to create a social media campaign would help them generate even more revenue.  They should understand the tangible business goals that social media can help the company achieve, which include:

  • Building brand awareness and reinforcing it
  • Building and strengthening relationships with clients, prospects, and influencers
  • Better understanding of the buyers
  • How to improve customer service
  • Identifying new product ideas
  • Promoting offers
  • Increasing website traffic
  • Improving search engine rankings
  • Driving traffic to trade show displays at events
  • Generating leads
  • Generating sales

Generate a timeline

"The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan", deals with the concerted effort to design and implement a social media plan once everybody in a business has been educated about social media.

Pushing business owners or employees to create a social media plan should not take an indeterminate amount of time.  Management will let everybody know that.  In order for a business to achieve measurable results with their social media plan within a reasonable amount of time, they should create a timeline of activities that will give management a better idea of what activities will be done and when.  This timeline should include how much time it will take to:

  • Define goals, objectives, and strategies
  • Train the company on social media
  • Determine if either an internal social media team, external social media consultant, or both, are necessary
  • Setup accounts on social media websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.  Depending on the size of the company or purpose of the account, more than one Twitter account maybe necessary.
  • Find existing communities of clients, prospects, and influencers on the aforementioned social media websites, niche social media sites, and established industry blogger sites.
  • Setup the company blog
  • Listen to each online community
  • Develop a following
  • Create content, such as an ongoing blog, videos, articles, podcasts, and others
  • Learn time-saving tools such as RSS feeds, Technorati, HootSuite, bit.ly, and others

Regular, pre-scheduled progress reports will inform management that the company is staying on track or, at least, help them better understand what is involved.  Progress reports should explain any or all of the following:

  • How much of the social media plan is completed
  • What part of the plan is currently in progress
  • What work remains to be done
  • What problems or unexpected things have arisen, if any
  • How the plan is going overall

Plan the resource requirements

"The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan", deals with the concerted effort to design and implement a social media plan once everybody in a business has been educated about social media.Social media marketing is an extension of the company’s current marketing plan, so the company must be prepared to invest additional resources such as time and money.  They must address the following issues:

  • How much time can the company afford to dedicate to building a social media presence?
  • How will the company respond to feedback, whether it is positive, negative, or just an enquiry?
  • What tools can the business use to monitor their presence effectively?

Companies should realize that social media marketing is dynamic, communicative, and, often times, visual in nature, so they may require a host of additional resources such as:

  • Additional help such as training, people’s time, or a budget to pay for consultants
  • Additional tools such as web hosting, a digital camera, video camera or webcam, or web applications
  • Additional communications tools such as a laptop with broadband access or a smart phone with an unlimited web access plan

A word to the wise: If possible, a company should do a casual inventory of its own resources (as opposed to doing full-fledged inventory) before making any social media-related purchases.  Businesses may save hundreds or even thousands of dollars if they already have some of the requested resources on hand.  Additionally, asking management to share their buy-in with a proposed social media plan can help gain more cooperation from the rest of the company.

Who should be involved in coordinating the social media plan for the company?

"The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan", deals with the concerted effort to design and implement a social media plan once everybody in a business has been educated about social media.As stated previously, companies must decide whether to deploy an internal social media team, hire an external social media consultant, or both.  If companies have not engaged in the activities to introduce social media to its employees as described in Part 1, social media consultants may help straighten the learning curve by training the company’s employees and help identify online communities where potential clients already gather.  However, I would recommend that the business owners, management, and employees engage in social media activities as described in my previous blog so that everybody in the company who has learned about social media together can create the social media plan together and give the company’s online presence an authentic voice.

Understanding the customers’ needs and how social media can address them

Beyond the purchase of merchandise or services rendered, companies can reach out to their customers with social media and provide added value to the overall service they received.  For example, customers may need easier access to product information or better after-sales service.  Companies need to determine what their customers find interesting about them and engage in conversation with them, steering clear from broadcasting sales pitches.  Customers contact a company because they have questions about a product or service and social media gives companies the chance to become an interactive knowledge base.  Some products or services may produce more discussion than others, so companies must act accordingly and add more specialists about the subject or expand the company’s knowledge base as needed.

Where can companies find their customers in social media?

Companies must spend the time researching where they can find new and existing customers by going to social networking sites.  Consumers and business customers probably use different platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, respectively.  Successful businesses invest in social media platforms that actually reach their customers.

Is the competition using social media to market their business?

Business owners and managers should evaluate their competitors, especially those who are using social media as part of their marketing, and determine whether or not they are doing so successfully.  A lot can be learned by studying the businesses that used social media marketing and succeeded — and failed.

The social media platforms that address your customers’ needs

"The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan", deals with the concerted effort to design and implement a social media plan once everybody in a business has been educated about social media.Once companies develop an understanding of their customers’ needs that social media can address, they must determine the most appropriate social media platform to reach them.  The social networking culture is developed by none other than its users (e.g. professionals or business owners on LinkedIn vs. a virtual gathering of one’s social life on Facebook), so companies should take the time to understand the culture first and develop a plan accordingly.  Even though social media marketing uses a wide range of communication tools to promote a business, management must decide which types of social media would work best for the company.  Some trial-and-error maybe necessary to determine what works best for the company and whether or not the communication tools used helps the company address their customer’s needs.  There are five types of social media to choose from:

Microblogging

Twitter, a very popular microblogging website, allows businesses to broadcast instant, public, and succinct 140-character messages (or “Tweets”) with links to websites, pictures, or videos.  Due to the public nature of this form of social media, people who receive the Tweet have the chance to respond publicly as well, thereby, engaging in a dialogue with the business or even joining an online conversation with other people who also received the Tweet.

Blogging

Writing a blog is similar to writing a diary or journal entry.  An extension of microblogging, writing blogs allows a business to write longer entries and for specific, business-related reasons.  The CEO, for example, may write one blog entry at the end of the month to discuss how well the company performed during the month.  A manager, on the other hand, may focus their blogs on customer service and write one or two blogs per week.  Readers are particularly responsive to blogs that have a personal touch and offer compelling opinions.  The ROI of management’s time to write a thoughtful blog is high: many blog websites are free.  The freedom to write longer, however, does not mean that a company’s blog writers should write long.  Bloggers within a community should grab the target reader’s attention and keep them interested with short blog entries.

Social networking sites

There are many social networking websites online.  Some were created for a particular country, professionals, or demographic.  As I noted in the previous blog, Facebook is, by far, the most popular social networking site with about 500 million users.  Even though Facebook started out as a social networking site for consumers, businesses have created successful social media campaigns on the site, as well.  The previous blog also noted LinkedIn, a social networking website geared towards white collared professionals, and has over 70 million users.  The choice of social networking sites that a business joins depends largely on whether their target audience or business contacts is present on those sites.

Discussion forums

Internet forums, or message boards, are online discussion sites.  They provide people a place to give feedback about a business’ products or services.  Well-structured and controlled forums allow businesses the opportunity to reach out to their customers and encourage them to use the forum to ask questions, make comments, or voice complains.  Forum moderators well versed in customer service can direct a company’s forum towards generating positive word-of-mouth recommendations for the business.  They must steer clear from using the forums for advertising or overt sales pitches or else, forum users will turn against the business.

Bookmarking and information-sharing tools

If a business needs to create a “buzz” about a new product or service launch, social bookmarking and information-sharing tools, such StumbleUpon or Reddit, can help.  These services allow users to mark web pages that they consider “interesting” and would like to recommend to others.  The number of recommendations is aggregated by the service in real time, allowing users of the service to see what their peers considering noteworthy at any given moment.  While company websites by themselves should not be promoted with these services, companies can announce new products or services with these tools.

Social media’s immediacy and flexibility allows companies to use it for a variety of marketing purposes such as:

  • Promoting time-limited special offers, especially through microblogging sites such as Twitter.
  • Carrying out market research by inviting and encouraging feedback, especially through blogs.
  • Providing direct access for customers to the company’s PR, particularly through microblogging sites.
  • Establishing a reputation as a customer-focused business, committed to service and/or communication with customers, using a forum to accomplish this goal.
  • Taking a proactive and vocal role in the company’s industry, participating in profile-raising, industry-wide debates and initiatives, by posting regularly on industry-wide forums or blogs with constructive suggestions.
  • Cementing relationships with existing suppliers, creating referrals for those who earned your goodwill, and reading other business’ referrals to build relationships with new suppliers.

Companies must understand that the medium and message go hand-in-hand.  Effective marketing starts not only with sending the right message to the target market, but using the correct channel to reach them, as well.  For example, the use of Twitter in a target market that does not use it would render the marketing campaign ineffective.  On the other hand, companies that aim to make connections with other companies should take their marketing campaign to professional-oriented social networking sites such as LinkedIn.  Successful businesses take the time to learn which demographics use which social networking sites and create marketing campaigns geared towards each target audience.

Get SMART and create a measurement plan

In order for businesses to measure the success of their social media plan or return on investment, they must create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) objectives and make sure that any marketing activity is tied to at least one of these objectives, separating hard targets (e.g. sales) from soft targets (e.g. creating new relationships).  Companies should setup tools such as web analytics, customer service, or call centers, in order to help measure the success of each criterion on each social media platform.

Create an integrated communication plan

"The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan", deals with the concerted effort to design and implement a social media plan once everybody in a business has been educated about social media.Companies must come to an understanding that social media marketing is not meant to replace existing, traditional marketing plans.  In fact, social media may encourage businesses to reevaluate existing market channels.  When businesses use social media, they should determine how they can promote conversation and sales-oriented messages through their existing marketing channels.  A company’s social media presence may complement existing marketing channels and conflict with others.  It maybe tempting to think that social media marketing can replace existing marketing activities completely, but companies that do so could miss out on targeting a demographic that chooses not to use social media at all.  However, social media marketing can replace existing marketing activities if and only if the business targeted just social media users.

Create a strong profile on the chosen social media platform

Creating a strong social media platform includes conveying essential information about the business as well as an image that they want to promote, particularly any existing visual branding.  Brand ambassadors and key contributors can add to a company’s profile significantly.  Businesses that identify these types of users early should engage with them, one-on-one if necessary, talk to them, get to know them, and encourage them to promote the company’s brand, providing them with tools to share the company’s content across their networks.

Content is king

"The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan", deals with the concerted effort to design and implement a social media plan once everybody in a business has been educated about social media.The Internet’s commercialization and the number of companies that do business online means that companies must have some kind of online presence in order to survive.  However, websites cannot be treated like a washer or dryer, where a person sets it and forgets it.  Businesses should include in their social media plan a schedule for providing relevant website or blog content that is updated regularly.  Websites such as affiliate or e-commerce sites, or graphics intensive sites, require fresh content periodically.  On the other hand, the content from public discussion forums, news sites, and blogs is generated by its users or writers.  Companies should integrate the content with their website so that both traditional and social media-oriented customers can benefit from it, taking great care to apply search engine optimization (SEO) practices to maximize the visibility of the website in organic search engine results.  Since the content sells the company and its products and services, the company must make sure that the marketing messages delivered to their customers are informative, engaging, and relevant.  If businesses share their knowledge and expertise outright, they can avoid making persistent, unsolicited broadcasts or hard, pressing sales messages.

Respond to all feedback

Despite following the best business practices and receiving an A+ from the Better Business Bureau, companies should realize that some critical, negative, or even controversial feedback is likely from some customers.  A company’s social media plan should outline how to deal with any and all types of feedback from its customers.  Companies that respond promptly give them the chance to build their profile and credibility.  On the other hand, companies that respond slowly or just as critically, brush aside or suppress a complaint, or worse, edit or delete a negative or controversial comment, can damage the company’s profile significantly.

Monitor, evaluate, respond, adapt, and evolve

Social media has been and will always remain dynamic.  Companies must keep that in mind as they roll out their social media plan, so they must monitor their social media use, measure their progress, and make changes to their approach if it proves ineffective.  Communities and the people in them evolve every day according to their needs and desires, so companies must keep in touch with them.  A target audience may move from one social media site to another, so companies must be willing to move with them.  Companies should perform a progress report every month, quarter, or semiannually and evaluate the performance of the social media plan against the objectives and goals set before the plan’s implementation.  With the use of available measuring tools, keeping an open ear to customer feedback, and using all sources of information available to them, companies should be able to identify ways to improve their engagement.  Most importantly, the company must monitor their brand and act when there is conversation happening that they can add value to and influence.

When a company decides that they can reap from the benefits of integrating a social media marketing plan into their daily operations, they must not lose sight of why they are around.  Companies exist to do business with other companies and consumers.  Their success is due in part to following sound business practices and sticking to carefully laid-out plans that brought the company prosperity over the years.  Even though social media has been around, integrating it into a company’s daily operations is relatively new and, as such, fraught with peril.  Business owners, managers, and employees most likely have different levels of casual experience with social media and its communication tools, so putting them on the same page about social media (vis-à-vis , Part 1: Understanding Social Media) was necessary before setting out to create a formal social media plan.  Everyone in the company would play a part in creating the plan: managers, creating a timeline of activities that must be done; marketers, identifying the marketing needs that social media can address; employees, proposing resource upgrades that can help the company follow through with the plan successfully.  The customers whom they are serving can tell the company what they are doing right or wrong and make changes accordingly.  The company can turn their most ardent or vocal supporters into brand ambassadors and push forward the company brand.  In order for a company to experience continued success with social media, they must be willing to move with the ebb and flow of its customers.  Successful social media plans are not set in stone; they never stop listening to the customers or the company that created it.

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Francis M. Unson

The Social Media Evolution – Part 1: Understanding Social Media

July 8, 2010

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The number of people on social networking websites are staggering: Twitter, for example, boasts nearly 200 million users while the number of users on Facebook totals half a billion.  Despite the large numbers of users on these two social networking websites alone (the thousands of other such websites notwithstanding), many owners and managers of small businesses do not know how social media can help their business, and precious few have anything resembling an effective and well-thought out social media plan (the subsequent blog, The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan, covers this).  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, and how it can help expand existing business practices.

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, how it can help expand existing business practices, and the marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out.Why should business owners and managers even bother to look into social media for their business?  For starters, if they do not create a social media presence in the networks where their existing customers are located, they miss out not only on positive feedback that those customers may provide unsolicited and publicly, but they also miss out on gaining potential customers who observe the interactions and feel as though they can trust the business even before the first transaction.  In Facebook or Twitter, where the interactions between business owners or managers and their customers are posted or Tweeted for the world to see, brand-building, brand marketing and great customer service are some of the many social media building blocks for businesses to build a lasting foundation with customers or other businesses.

Given the vast number of social media tools and social networking websites to choose from, making the jump into social media may seem overwhelming for some business owners.  However, if they have a Facebook or Twitter account for personal reasons, they have already taken the first step.  Therefore, business owners who have unwittingly taken this first step just need to apply what they already know from personal experience to their business.

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, how it can help expand existing business practices, and the marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out.However, what if business owners have never used social media, even for themselves?  Of course, the move towards social media would be more intimidating at any level.  In order to help business owners understand what social media can do for their business, we must put aside any technical discussion and, instead, highlight how social media extends existing business practicesHector Jarquin notes five of these extensions.

Extended business relationship

Traditional customer service involves interaction between store employees and the customer, where the customer makes inquiries about special offers or has questions or comments about the good or services.  Social media allows business owners and managers to join the conversation, building relationships with new or existing patrons.

Extended way of communication

The two-way nature of social media helps people create a better understanding about the business.

Extended way of referrals

Even if business owners have not created an online presence for their company, business referrals on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp have probably created the online presence of the business but to a smaller degree.  These websites help people share their opinions about the business with friends and strangers, with tools available to business owners who wish to manage comments and opinions about the business.

Extended brand awareness

Social media offers business owners more control over their brand, giving customers greater insight into their business over the competition.

Extended way of sharing an opinion

Hector summed it up best: interact, participate, share, discover.  Engage with the people in your industry.

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, how it can help expand existing business practices, and the marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out.While business owners and managers slowly warm up to the idea of social media for the business, their diverse employees have probably used social media in equally varying degrees.  Not surprisingly, older employees may have limited exposure to social media while younger employees are probably glued to Facebook and Twitter on their cell phones during break or lunch time.  Business owners and managers who become aware of their younger employees’ social media savviness may turn to them to introduce social media to the rest of their, otherwise, social media-mute colleagues.  Jessica Stillman lists seven creative suggestions to get employees involved in social media without being technical.

Start an education campaign

Knowledge is power, especially if trade publications the business subscribes to feature articles about social media and how it is used in business or for entertainment.  Print these articles and leave them for the employees to read with a note saying, “Thought you would find this interesting.”  Follow up personally a day or two later and field any questions or comments the employees may have.

Team up with internal and external social media users

Starting a dialogue with other social media-savvy employees allows the like-minded group to engage in thoughtful conversation about how the use of social media tools could impact the business, making it easier to have similar conversations with the rest of the not-so-savvy employees.

Suggest social media solutions

Look for opportunities to add a social media component when discussing solutions to meet training needs.

Help stretch the budget by using a “free” option

Most social media tools available today are free.  Yes, free!  Nothing sounds sweeter to budget-conscious business owners and managers than the sound of that word.  Zero or near-zero cost of any new program implemented by a business is almost unheard of, but social media is a rare exception.

Take a look at the market relationship of your competitors

The public nature of social media allows business owners and managers to take a glimpse at the competition and see what people are saying about them, thereby extending their business relationship with their customers.  Business owners and managers must realize that introducing a social media plan for their own business will yield similar benefits.

Invite your co-workers to your social networks

Are you on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn but your employees or co-workers are not?  Invite them!  You will be one of their first contacts.  Once they sign up, give them a personal tour of the social networking sites.

Give the gift of social media

If your company has strict rules limiting the number of photocopies you’re allowed to make (see “Start an education campaign”), giving books about social media to your boss, co-workers, or employees, especially during Christmas and the Holiday season, may help nudge them towards optimizing the business with social media.

Finally, after months of internal campaigns about social media with the business owners, managers, and employees, the business can move forward and apply social media marketing tools, confident that those within the organization are more or less on the same page.  The social media-savvy in the company have made everybody else social media-conscious at the very least.  Business owners and managers can now begin to create an effective social media plan.

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, how it can help expand existing business practices, and the marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out.Before business owners and managers join a social networking site, let’s explore the three most viable options available to them from a business standpoint.  Facebook, by and large, is the most popular social networking website with over 500 million users worldwide.  A potential customer base of half a billion people can really help a business take off if business owners and managers put together a successful social media campaign.  Twitter comes in second with nearly 200 million users worldwide.  Used properly, the microblobbing site can generate buzz about upcoming events, limited time offers, and special deals, often available only to customers who follow the company’s Twitter account.  LinkedIn, with over 70 million users, helps users hunt for jobs and recruit new employees, as well as carry out tasks such as researching companies and prospecting for deals.  The social networking website provides a place where white-collar professionals can communicate with one another.

Meanwhile, the wide range of marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out include but are not limited to:

  • Reaching customers and prospects online
  • Raising the company profile and enhancing the business’ brand reputation
  • Strengthening customer relationships
  • Demonstrating the business owner’s expertise, commitment, and passion
  • Improving business owner’s understanding of industry issues and trends
  • Meeting people who can help develop the business
  • Enhancing customer service
  • Boosting traffic to the website
  • Testing new ideas and finding out what people think about the business
  • Seeing what competitors are up to
  • Improving sales

Social media is a dynamic field.  While the tools change over time and the social media plan of one company should not be followed, verbatim, by another company, the basic understanding of social media in regards to how it extends existing business practices remains the same.  Given the varying degrees of familiarity that employees, management, or business owners may have with social media, non-technical campaigns maybe necessary at first to get the company on the same page.  Once everyone in the company is sufficiently versed in social media, business owners and management can team up with their employees and set out to create a social media plan tailor-made for and by the company itself.

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Francis M. Unson

MagicJack: How to Call Internationally for Free

March 22, 2010

Why didn’t I call this blog,

“MagicJack: How to Make International Calls for Free”?

I consider making an international call the following: picking up the phone, dialing 011, and then the rest of the phone number.  I have some bad news: it is nigh impossible to make free international calls this way, with any telephone device.

If you want to call your friends or family overseas for free, using a MagicJack can help you make calling internationally for free.However, there is a way to call internationally for free.  For example, if you’ve called customer service of, say, your cable or credit card company, some of those calls reached India, the Philippines, or even Argentina.  Even though your call to customer service started with a toll-free 800 number, the call to the call centers in different countries were, no doubt, international.

How do you call internationally for free?  First, a list of items you need:

  • MagicJack
  • Computer
  • Internet Connection, preferably high-speed or broadband
  • A regular phone

Here are the instructions for account setup:

  1. Purchase a MagicJack.  They are available in many places such as department stores, office supply stores, and even gas station mini marts.  Trust me, I saw the MagicJack being sold side-by-side with cigarettes at 7-11.  They retail between US$20-$40 but are worth the initial investment.
  2. Turn on your computer.  Install the MagicJack in an open USB port.  The device will connect to the company’s main server, download additional files and begin setup.  Do not install the regular phone into the MagicJack at this time.
  3. If you are so inclined during setup, you may choose to register a second MagicJack, opt to start with a five-year contract immediately for additional savings, or order vanity phone numbers.  For the sake of these instructions, decline these offers.  You will also be offered pre-paid minutes for international calls.  Decline this offer.
  4. When choosing a phone number, provide your city, state, and area code.  A phone number will be assigned and will become the phone number local to your area.
  5. Once setup is complete, plug the phone into the MagicJack.  Incoming calls test: Call the new phone number from your landline or cell phone.  Outgoing calls test: Call your landline or cell phone from the phone connected to the MagicJack.
  6. This is the most important stepMail the MagicJack and phone to your friend or family member overseas.  All they have to do is connect the MagicJack to a USB port in their computer.  Once the software is installed, they can make their own calls back home using the log in information you provided during setup, and all calls will appear local.

The MagicJack can save you a lot of money, especially if you call friends or relatives in different countries very frequently.  You must setup MagicJack correctly, however, so that you and your friends and relatives can call and receive calls internationally for free.  The MagicJack may even provide you with new ways to connect with parts of the world where the cost of telecommunications is very high.  Calling internationally for free with the MagicJack couldn’t be more simple.

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Francis M. Unson

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