While a huge portion of what social media has become known for is posting pics of cute cats, keeping up with celebrity feuds, and salivating over food images, social media is actually great for small businesses too. Many small business owners relegate social media as the "whipped cream" to the perceived more important aspects to business needs, but social media is nothing to skip out on. I mean, who doesn't love whipped cream anyway? These 5 "As" will show you why social media is something your small business needs to succeed. An "A" for effort indeed!

Awareness - Brand Recognition

Social media, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Pinterest and then some, is where many people find out what's new, hot, and trendy. Developing and maintaining company profiles and pages on as many social media outlets as possible is imperative for your brand and its noteworthiness. According to Forbes, "Every opportunity you have to increase your visibility is valuable. Social media networks are channels for your brand's voice and content." The more people see your brand, what you're doing, and what you've got to offer, the more your company name is top of mind when they want to buy your goods or use your services. Keep it fresh, frequent, and friendly. The more unique you are the better, but be sure you can be relatable and memorable. Another way brands can become instantly recognized is via a celebrity tie in. As per an article posted on Bloomberg.com, a watch company, Daniel Wellington did just that and the followers to their social media pages soared. Send out your product to representatives for celebrities, ask magazines for tie-ins, or reach out to the celebs themselves via their social media pages. One may bite and give you a shout out. With the number of followers the famous folks have, even if a fraction start to follow you, it's worth the effort.

Anywhere - Mobile Capabilities

If you've ever been on a crowded train, waited on a grocery checkout line, or even walked down a busy street, you've surely noticed the people around you engrossed in whatever they're looking at on their smartphone. Much of the time, they're thumbing through their social media feeds to see what's new and interesting. By investing in your social presence, you can be sure your current and potential customers and clients will see what you're posting and sharing no matter what time of day or wherever they may be. As Aabaco Small Business from Yahoo puts it, "Mobile is at the forefront of social media because most social activity that is being done is via a mobile device. Plan accordingly when developing your social strategy and be sure it is compatible and offers the viewer a positive experience." Heck, if someone's going to bump into someone while walking face down in their cell, why shouldn't it be your Facebook page that's hooked them in? When considering mobile, go even deeper and become educated on when the best times to post are and how frequently. Lots of companies see increased engagement on weekends, as per Adweek SocialTimes. And for the most click-thrus? 12 and 6pm are the times to post for the most bang for your buck. Of course, every set of consumers are different and each field and its base of followers have different trends. Your social media manager with aid from the social platforms can derive a posting plan that delivers the most value for your business.

Access – Increased Traffic

Social media information, when intriguing with obvious and uncomplicated calls to action, will bring readers to your company website, increasing your traffic, and in turn, profit. According to Aabaco Small Business, "Every website owner wants to increase their traffic and social networks to the list of site referrals. They also lead to more time spent on the site." Forbes adds, "Without the benefit of social media, traffic is limited to people already familiar to your brand. Every social media post you add is another path to your site. The more quality content on social media, the more traffic." So be aware of what you're posting and always give the reader a reason to click through to your website, be it for more related content, a special deal, or a new item or service. For help with maximizing your techniques for luring customers over, check out po.st. They can help capitalize on your readers' social activity and habits and aid you in effectively posting and integrating content that makes them yearn for more over on your website where the real action takes place as far as money making is concerned.

Allegiance - Engagement & Loyalty

Just like an old friend you've reconnected with on social media, your customers will become loyal to your brand the more you share with them and provide positive and useful material for them to look forward to. In addition, the more they see of you on social media, the more willing they'll be to engage with your posts by commenting, reviewing, and best for you, sharing with others who will be inclined to "like" your page and become a customer since they have trust in their friend's choices. Texas Tech University's College of Media & Communication reported that social media presence increases loyalty from consumers who follow a company's social media presence and those who engage in conversations with their followers were "the most likely to gain brand loyalty from those individuals because they like their voice to be heard." Be sure to keep active and participatory with your followers and make them feel special. Well, aren't they? Without them, your business would have a hard time succeeding. Remember, treat your followers with respect and try to move negative chatter to a private setting. And to make sure your readers know there's a "real person" behind the scenes, keep the activity moving with posts that show you've been reading what they are putting out there. Stay away from generic filler posts or "spammy" jargon that will probably be passed over anyhow.

Availability - Greater SEO

Search engine optimization is important for any business. You want to rank well among those in your field when it comes to online searches from prospective customers and clients. Forbes claims that SEO is the best way to obtain relevant traffic from search engines like Google. "Search engines may be calculating their rankings using social media presence as a significant factor. Strong brands almost always use social media, and being active on social media is a signal to search engines that your brand is legitimate, credible, and trustworthy." You can improve your ranking by staying on top of your social media posting and progress. The more readily you are able to be found online, the better off your company will be when folks dive into the sea of what's searchable and you're among the first they can reel in. Take a meeting with an SEO expert. You may not need to hire someone full time, but instead, try for a seminar or an advisor that can educate you on what and how much content to put out there to achieve optimal SEO value from your hard work.

So get social and check off the 5 "As" of social success. Your small business will be a "thumbs up" with your followers and fans awaiting your next post!

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Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.

In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.

In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.

But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.

In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.

Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.

Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:

1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan

2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.

3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.


4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.

5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.

Here are charities offering support in Haiti:

1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.

2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.

3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.

4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.

via Tiffany & Co.

When the new Tiffany's campaign was unveiled, reactions were mixed.

Tiffany's, the iconic jewelry brand which does not (despite what some might be misled to believe) in fact serve breakfast, featured Jay Z, Beyoncé, and a rare Basquiat painting in their recent campaign.

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Road trips can be a lot of fun — but they can also drain your wallet quickly if you aren't careful.

From high gas costs and park admission fares to lodging and the price of eating out every night, the expenses can add up quickly. But at the same time, it's very possible to do road trips cheaply and efficiently. Without the headache of worrying about how much money you're leaking, you can enjoy the open road a whole lot more. Here's how to save money on a road trip.

1. Prepare Your Budget, Route, and Packing List in Advance

If you want to save money on a road trip, be sure you're ready to go. Try to count up all your expenses before you hit the road and create a budget. It's also a good idea to plan your route in advance so you don't end up taking unnecessary, gas-guzzling detours. And finally, be sure to pack in advance so you don't find yourself having to buy tons of things you forgot along the way.

2. Book Cheap Accommodations — Or Try Camping

All those motel rooms can add up surprisingly quick, but camping is often cheap or free, and it's a great way to get intimate with the place you're visiting. You can check the Bureau of Land Management's website for free campsites. Freecampsite.com also provides great information on If you don't have a tent or don't want to camp every night, try booking cheap Airbnbs or booking hotels in advance, making sure to compare prices.

Camping camping road tripConde Nast Traveler

If you're planning on sleeping in your car, a few tips: WalMart allows all-night parking, as do many 24-hour gyms. (Buying a membership to Planet Fitness or something like it also gives you a great place to stop, shower, and recharge while on the road).

3. Bring Food From Home

Don't go on a road trip expecting to subsist on fast food alone. You'll wind up feeling like shit, and it'll drain your pocketbook stunningly quickly. Instead, be sure to bring food from home. Consider buying a gas stove and a coffee pot for easy on-the-go meals, and make sure you bring substantial snacks to satiate midday or late night cravings so you can avoid getting those late night Mickey D's expeditions.

Try bringing your own cooler, filling it with easy stuff for breakfast and lunch — some bread and peanut butter and jelly will go a long way. Bring your own utensils, plates, and napkins, and avoid buying bottled water by packing some big water jugs and a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, try staying at hotels or Airbnbs with kitchens so you can cook there.

4. Avoid Tolls

Apps like Google Maps and Waze point out toll locations, so be sure to avoid those to save those pennies. (If it takes you too far off route, you might have to bite the bullet and drive across that expensive bridge).

You can also save on parking fees by using sites like Parkopedia.

Road Trip Road TripThe Orange Backpack


5. Save on Gas

Gas can get pricy incredibly fast, so be sure that you're stopping at cheap gas stations. Free apps like GasBuddy help you find the most affordable gas prices in the area. Also, try going the speed limit on the highways — anything faster will burn through your tank. Be sure that you don't wait till you arrive at touristy locations or big cities to fill up.

6. Get a National Park Pass

All those parks can get really expensive really fast. If you're planning on visiting three or more parks, it's a great idea to get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. For $80 you can get into every National Park for one year.