Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Blogging: Not for the faint of heart   4 comments

I am struggling. My fledgling blog is now more than four months old. I have lots of ideas for blog posts. I’ve been invited to guest blog on more than one occasion. Readership is low, but I occasionally get attention from unexpected places. So what’s the problem?

I’m exhausted. Of course, as with most moms who are working full-time, exhaustion is a normal state of existence. Every week I end up writing late at night to make my arbitrary, self-imposed editorial deadline.

It’s not all fun. I enjoy thinking and writing. I do not enjoy digging up a suitable, Creative Commons-blessed photo to accompany every post (which is why I skipped it on vacation). While I occasionally break this rule I try not to as people tend to feel more engaged when there’s a photo.

I know I can do better. I am certainly not writing to my full potential or my own editorial standards (which I admit are higher than most), which is highly frustrating.

So why bother with the blog?

It’s calming. My world allows me few creative outlets these days so this is one medium that allows me to clear my head of many of the thoughts that are rattling around.

It’s a point of pride.  Seeing that list of completed posts grow each month is a very satisfying feeling and as is being able to count myself as a blogger (albeit a newbie one)

Professional growth. Writing the blog forces me to sit and really think about the topics of the day. What DO I think about Google+? It helps me focus my thoughts and form opinions that might otherwise have remained mostly dormant.

To compromise between my desire to express myself and my desire to salvage what’s left of my sanity I am changing this to a bi-weekly or even monthly blog. We shall see. I have decided that blogging is great, but living my real life is better. So is sleep.

Image credit: viralbus via Flickr

My#FollowFriday favorites: Top 3 PR/Marketing/Comm bloggers   Leave a comment

This week I am doing you a favor. Rather than pour out my usual drivel I thought I would share with you some of my favorite bloggers/Twitter personalities. I admit, I don’t keep up with my blog reading as much as I should or want to, but when I do these are the people I go to.

These folks are brilliant, talented, and charming to boot. They are bona fide experts in communication particularly when it comes to public relations, social media and marketing. If you want to learn how to communicate well these are the people you need to know. Consider this one big #FollowFriday shout-out (in no particular order).

  1. Shonali Burke
    Sole proprietor (and sole employee) of Shonali Burke Consulting, Shonali hosts the popular #measurepr chat on Twitter and is the driving force behind the blog Waxing UnLyrical. I am also pleased to say I have met Shonali as she was the guest of honor at the very first Tweetup I attended, here in San Diego.
  2. Jay Baer
    A renowned social media consultant, Jay Baer is also an author and speaker (if I read books anymore I would definitely read “The NOW Revolution,” his book with Amber Naslund). His site/blog, www.ConvinceAndConvert.com has a ton of great info and tools you can use to plan your social media campaign.
  3. Gini Dietrich
    Founder and CEO of ArmentDietrich and author of the Spin Sucks blog, Gini Dietrich provides excellent tips and food for thought.

There you have it. There are MANY more talented folks out there, so I encourage you to scour the list of people I’m following on Twitter if you want to find more people I find influential and educational.

Who are your favorite bloggers and communicators?

“To thine own self be true” when choosing a social network   Leave a comment

Shakespeare had it right when he said, “To thine own self be true.” Bust of Shakespeare

Why choose one social platform over another? Why Facebook instead of Twitter or LinkedIn instead of Google+? It all depends on two things: your needs and how well each one addresses those needs.

Sarah Kessler and Emily Caufield have created an interesting infographic  (hot items these days) that essentially charts the top five social networks and how each one stacks up on certain criteria. View the infographic here. It is not without its flaws, but it highlights a key factor in choosing a social network: we join social networks that give us what we need.

For example:

On paper (or screen) Google+ really does kick arse. The only thing that it seems to lack is a built-in ability to do event planning. However, in the last several weeks I have been on Facebook and LinkedIn multiple times per day and Twitter every couple of days.

Google+? At  best once a week.

Right now Google+ doesn’t give me what I need. I need support and interaction with friends and family and out of the social networks Facebook is the one that best meets those needs.

What else do I need? Professional development. So I go to Twitter and LinkedIn to see what my colleagues are talking about and read articles on topics pertinent to my business. I could do that on Google+ as there is a flourishing community of my peers on there. However, that brings me to another need: time. I need something that is quick and easy and LinkedIn and Twitter provide me with that since I’ve already done the hard work to set up the networks. Google+ does not meet my needs because I don’t have time to set it up properly yet.

This all boils down to one quick reminder that goes for all the things we do: know what you want to get out of something before you start putting something (time, effort, money) into it.

The mighty QR code and its new rival: NFC   Leave a comment

The quick response (“QR”) code is just hitting its stride now. I admit that I was not an early adopter and had to be convinced of the value of these odd, square bar codes popping up everywhere in the U.S. (they’ve been in Japan for a while). You’ve probably seen one and wondered why on Earth anyone would put a weird thing like that on a sign or flyer. Well here’s why: a QR code provides a cheap and easy way to–among other things–get consumers to a specific webpage.

The Beauty of QR codes
So what? Isn’t that what the “www” address is for? Well, sure. But what if that www address isn’t so neat and tidy? For example, let’s say the local Islands* restaurant wants to send out a postcard that directs people to info on their specific location.

They could do it with this web address: http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/locations/info.aspx?l=5&r=26

Not so easy to remember or type into a computer, eh?

Or they could put one of these:

QR Code for info on local Islands restaurant

QR Code for info on local Islands restaurant

For those of us with a smartphone who have downloaded a QR code reader app, this code, once scanned, will take you directly to the address listed above (http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/locations/info.aspx?l=5&r=26). Aside from the initial download of the app (not a barrier for most of us) it’s a much easier way to get people to complicated and hard to remember (and therefore easy to forget) web addresses. But this is a very simple example. QR codes can do much more than access a website. Sending a text message or email or transferring someone’s contact info to your phone and downloading files are also possible . For a complete QR code primer check this out.

New Kid on the Block: NFC
Just when QR codes thought they had things locked up a younger, hotter model emerged. Near Field Communication (NFC) serves many of the same functions without the hassle of having to scan a code. If you come across a sign/business card/promo item embedded with a NFC chip AND your phone has an embedded NFC scanner then just wave one next to the other and voila! Information downloaded, webpage opened, bill paid, etc. But that’s a lot of ifs that only a handful of companies have control over. And that’s why QR codes will continue to serve an important function.

QR Codes are Egalitarian
I make two big assumptions for my next argument: you have a web-enabled smartphone and you have Internet access outside of your phone. If you don’t have these things then this blog post is entirely academic for you and you’re not my target audience anyway. Why are you here? (KIDDING! Hi, Dad!)

So given my aforementioned assumptions, QR codes are egalitarian because ANYONE can download a QR code reader to their phone and ANYONE can go online and create QR code for free (you don’t think I paid for that example from Kaywa above, do you?). Free is worth a lot. NFC on the other hand is dependent on getting your hands on the chips in some form and in having a phone that can read them. The former is likely to start getting a lot cheaper (but that still doesn’t beat free!). The latter, if you’re in the market for a new phone, is going to get a lot easier with most major phone manufacturers working to include NFC in their phones.

NFC and QR Codes Living in Harmony
It’s true that NFC can do much more than a QR code. Securely processing payments, transferring files between phones and other slick tricks go far beyond the reaches of a simple bar code scan. NFCs are definitely the future. After all Google is going all-in with NFC. Some excellent posts on the subject are here and here.

But don’t discount the (now) underdog. Whereas with NFC you have to obtain a chip and incorporate it into your marketing collateral and POP items, with QR codes you can instantly create as many as you want and have them on a flyer and out the door in minutes. Want to promote a new web link? No problem! Just type it in and get a new, free code in seconds. They are cheap, easy and effective which means they will continue to have their place in the marketing mix for some time to come. Some great discussion around this is happening here.

Do you think there’s still a place in the marketing mix for QR codes or will they be gone in 6 months? Leave your comments below!

*This is not an endorsement, I didn’t receive anything from them for this mention, etc., etc. They just provided an easy example to prove my point.

Posted August 5, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Branding, Business, Internet, Marketing

Google+ isn’t going to kill anyone (but it could make everyone stronger).   2 comments

Let’s get right to the point: Is Google+ a Facebook killer? In a word, no.

To borrow from a famous movie,  you don’t get to 750 million friends without knowing a thing or two. And you don’t lose 500 million friends overnight. The “social” in social media means that most people will stay where their friends are and right now their friends are on Facebook.

So what will it do? Google+ will definitely do some damage to Facebook, but it will take some time (case in point: they have temporarily stopped allowing new people to join). And in the meantime Facebook will be able to revise its site and develop new features to keep people there (Zuckerberg ain’t no fool–he’s the most followed account on Google+ and you can bet he’s doing his research). Facebook has already launched a new feature: video chatting with Skype. (Though Google+ Hangouts is still better.)

What Google+ will really do is motivate Facebook to improve its service and broaden its offerings. Make it easier to group people and send updates to certain people and not others. And while Facebook is working on that, those of us who are attracted to the new and shiny when it comes to technology will begin using Google+ until it eventually goes mainstream. How long that will take and what either site will look like once this happens is anyone’s guess. Google+ is still in its infancy so I expect it to evolve rapidly in the coming weeks and months.

Let’s not forget there are other sites affected by Google+ besides Facebook. Twitter, for example. While Google would like to make Google+ a Twitter replacement they are a long way from being able to do this. Where Google holds the power is in search rankings. If Google starts giving Google+ updates more weight than Twitter updates then companies have a serious incentive to interact with people on Google+ because it means they are more likely to place higher in search engine rankings. A great analysis and example of this is here. And Google also has Twitter beat on ease of use and slick design. So there is more potential for Google to do serious damage to Twitter than to Facebook. Twitter may be the best known provider, but its service is easily replicated and improved upon. They had better hustle to find new ways to engage with visitors or they could see a serious decline in use.

Finally, let’s talk about LinkedIn. What is LinkedIn? A place to post your resume, connect with colleagues, post updates, get info on companies and, as of recently, see news about your field. All right let’s break this down into its parts and review through Google+ eyes:

  • Post your resume – It’s rudimentary in Google+, but do-able
  • Connect with colleagues – Check!
  • Post updates – Check!
  • Get info on companies, including job posts – Coming soon
  • Read news about your field – Check! (See Sparks on your Google+ account)

So with only a few minor upgrades you could do most of your LinkedIn activities on Google+. The main thing missing is to be able to see who in your network works at a particular company or with certain other people. Until that feature is added LinkedIn remains a valuable tool.

The key takeaway from all this is that Google+ changes the landscape by providing a viable alternative to each of the three major social networks. However, there is still time while Google+ grows and develops for the other players to learn from Google’s growing pains and improve themselves. I’ll be curious to see if they do.

Image credit: RHW-Photography via Flickr

Posted July 7, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Internet, Marketing, Social Media

First Thoughts on the Google+ Project   2 comments

Google bread manIntriguing.

That is my first impression after reviewing some of the features of the new Google+ project. I’m still willing to give Google the benefit of the doubt (even after the Wave, which I have yet to be given a compelling reason to understand or appreciate) and there is a lot of potential with the new toys. The concepts are simple, yet elegant. The design is friendly and usable. However, the adoption of Google+ will all depend on the usability of the final execution. Check out this article from Wired.com for a full write-up from people with far more insider knowledge than I have.

Circles
Similar to your Facebook friends, Circles allows you to group contacts into “Circles” that you name. Unlike Facebook, this appears to have a very user-friendly interface that allows you to easily drag and drop contacts into those circles. Early descriptions of this functionality seem like a cross between Facebook and Twitter: you can designate which circles receive certain updates, or you can make them public to the entire world like a tweet. Apparently you can even include contacts in groups who are not using the system, so family members can still receive your photos even if they haven’t “friended” you. While you can send non-Facebook using contacts links to photo albums it’s not an easy or convenient process which this has the potential to be.

This has been my biggest issue with Facebook. With the privacy settings being so complicated,  how can I be sure that my colleagues won’t see my vacation photos? I do, after all, have multiple online personas for a reason! I generally refrain from typing anything that could be the list bit embarrassing onto any site, but I’m human and my personality shines through at times. I need a site that protects me from those moments! Perhaps Circles will be it.

Hangout
One of the most fascinating features is the new Hangout. This TechCrunch article gives an apt analogy: “If your neighbor is sitting there, you know that they’ll likely be interested in striking up a conversation. In fact, it would be rude for you to walk by and not say anything.” The idea is that if you’re online, surfing the Web, but none of your friends are on at the moment, you can tell them you’re ready and waiting to video chat should they hop online and feel interested. This would almost replace my need for Skype and my constant texting with my parents to figure out when we are both available.

Other Features
The other features of Google+ seem very interesting, but are less ground-breaking. Sparks simply reminds me of LinkedIn Today, but with more varied categories of information. Instant Upload and Huddle are cool, but I have other ways to accomplish the same things (though of course in other sites). This could be a good way to combine all these tasks in one.

My Early Assessment
I predict this product will be successful. Not Facebook successful, but better than Wave anyway. It is unique and user-friendly.I plan to try it out as soon as I can and I hope you’ll join me as I experiment with it as soon as I can get my hands on it it!

Image credit: DannySullivan via Flickr

Marketers are manipulative? Nope, think problem-solvers.   Leave a comment

Let me set the record straight: I love marketing. I have a marketing degree, I continue to study marketing in my free time and I genuinely enjoy the practice of it–when it’s done WELL. These facts do not make me a lying, manipulative attention-hog (though I admit to occasionally being a bit of a ham). What I hate is the reputation marketing gets because of people who do it poorly, or claim that it is something that it isn’t.

Marketing Does NOT Equal Sales
Pet peeve numero uno in my marketing book are sales people who call themselves marketers. Marketing is not sales any more than a logo is your brand. These are two different roles requiring very different skill sets. Typically extroverts make good salespeople, whereas I am most definitely an introvert (an outgoing one, but still an introvert). I prefer to focus on the why and how rather than the who, what, etc.

Pet peeve number two is when people think marketing is flyers. Or postcards. Or emails. Or any number of other tactics. These are tools used to implement marketing, but they themselves are not marketing.

So What IS Marketing?
My favorite class in college was “Consumer Behavior.” I enjoy studying the way people think and why they do the things they do. To me, marketing is the combination of psychology and business. The study of people and what makes them tick–and how to put that information to good use for your business. Some people see this as manipulative, but to us honest folks that’s not the goal.

The goal is find people who have a problem and solve it. Make people’s lives better through your product or service. Clearly I am rather idealistic in this sense and many companies are not like this. But the good ones are. Here’s a high-level overview of how this works.

How To Be A Problem-solver
Before you can do anything you must first know your product/service, your company, your industry, and your competition inside and out. That information, when analyzed properly, will tell you who your target audience is. The people who need what you have to offer (I’m assuming you’ve established that there is a need prior to launching  your company!).

Once you know that, you can start learning about that audience and how they work, where they get their information, what drives them. Ask “Why?” a lot. You then write copy that shows your target audience the benefits of what you have to offer in light of their needs (your audience wants to know “What’s In It For Me?” so be sure to tell them). You use the tactics (electronic, direct mail, flyers, etc.) that will most effectively get that message in front of that target audience. This entire process, among many other things, is marketing.

I’ve simplified this to a ridiculous degree. There so much more nuance to this than I can express here, but rest assured it will be addressed in future blog posts.

Photo: antwerpenr via Flickr

Posted June 22, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Business, Marketing

SEO–With A Human Touch   Leave a comment

Magnifying glass searchSearch engine optimization (SEO) is a tricky thing to say the least. Obviously you want your website/blog/Facebook page/fill-in-the-blank to be found by as many people who are searching for your content as possible. (I say “searching for your content” because just having as many visitors as possible isn’t important if those people weren’t looking for what you’re offering.) And there are many very legitimate and helpful ways of making your content as findable as possible. Putting the main keywords from your content in meta-tags is one way. Linking to your own webpages from your other webpages is another. For the truly technical the list can go on and on. However, it’s important not to lose site of the point of doing all this: you want to connect with the people who are interested in what you have to offer and–let’s be honest here–sell them your wares. And SEO isn’t necessarily a panacea for accomplishing this.

I was reminded of this recently when discussing microsites with a respected colleague trained in SEO. We had the common goal of making this microsite as effective as possible for the office we were building it for. This office is in a location that neither of us knew much about so we were reliant on the associates in the office to provide the details about their customers and what those customers needed. My colleague was very concerned about the title we were giving the site because her SEO statistics were showing that those weren’t the right keywords to use. According to her data the people in that area were using other terms when searching for an office in that area.

After discussing the issue with that office I came to realize something. The main use of their microsite wasn’t to attract new customers–it was to service their existing ones. This is a somewhat rural area and the majority of their web visitors find them because our associates told them about the site and showed them how to conduct business on the site. New customers finding them from an Internet search were rare. That’s not to say we should have ignored the data and we didn’t. But if we had relied solely on the data we would have turned off a number of their existing customers because the focus of the site and the verbiage used would have shifted and the office would have appeared to be ignoring regional concerns in favor of corporate ones.

All of this just provides a cautionary tale. When you’re neck-deep in data, trying to make sense of it all and use the information to create strategies, don’t forget to pick your head up and talk to the people you are trying to service. You always want a complete picture of what you are trying to accomplish and that should include a human side. There is most definitely a proper way to use SEO to reach your target audience, but it is only one more tool in your belt when it comes to building relationships and accomplishing your ultimate goal: making the sale.

Image: Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

Posted June 1, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Business, Internet, Marketing

Want to generate buzz? Get your employees buzzing.   Leave a comment

What’s better than having someone talk about your company online? What about having lots of someones talk about your company online? “Ummm…yeah. Isn’t that the whole point of social media? To get people talking about your company online?” Well, yes. But I’m talking about something else. Something more intrinsic. Imagine if those people knew your company inside and out and were promoting your company just by being them. I’m talking about your EMPLOYEES!

Bee

“But I don’t want all of my people tweeting or giving their views to the world. I don’t always like what they say.” If you think most of your employees aren’t already using social media in some way then I’d like you to pull your head out of the sand. Wouldn’t it be better to corral that activity into productive efforts for the benefit of the company? Not everyone is going to be interested. But for those who are, why not channel that passion and drive into something beneficial.

In my last post I illustrated how important it is to take control of your reputation through participation in social media. While it’s important to have at least one person coordinating those efforts, there’s only so much one person can do. Amplify those efforts by educating your employees and sending them out into the online world on the company’s behalf. There are two aspects to this education: education on the company’s social media policy and education on best practices for using social media.

“What do you mean, ‘social media policy?'” Oh, you don’t have one? Never fear! As you are not the first and certainly not the last company to go through these growing pains there are plenty of resources out there to help you. First, think of it less as a “policy” and more like “guidelines” (think of the pirates’ code in “Pirates of the Caribbean”). You want to direct, not dictate. With that in mind, here is a repository of sample guidelines. IBM, Dell and Intuit are three companies that stand out as leaders in this field. And don’t forget these “10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy.” Mariam Cook provides additional excellent resources and examples in this post.

So you have your policy…ahem…GUIDELINES. Think a company memo with the document attached is sufficient training? Not so fast. Hopefully you got input from your team as you were creating these guidelines so they are not news to anyone. Within reason this document should be discussed with managers so that they understand the why (if not the how). The document should be emailed out by you or a superior, possibly even printed (gasp!), and live presentations or webinars should be given so that employees have the opportunity to ask questions. This document deserves a roll-out worthy of any communication plan.

The other side of education is training any newbies on what social media is, how to use the various tools effectively and what corporate presence (if any) your company has that they can get involved in. Many people are probably using social media to check out pics of the grandkids, but if they are interested you can help them take that interest a step further to become a brand ambassador. (If they’re not interested, leave them be. The only thing worse than no voice is a negative voice.) What does that training look like? That will have to be a post for another time!

The more people talking about your company, the better. If those people are upbeat, intelligent and know your company inside and out then your company is better for it. The buzz will come!

Image: Andy Hay via Flickr

Posted May 25, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Branding, Business, Marketing, Social Media

Don’t let other people hijack your reputation   6 comments

In my last post I described a scenario in which unwitting employees, after checking into Foursquare during a weekend of debauchery, taint your company’s reputation by using Foursquare to check into work on Monday morning. This forever  links your company to all of their online activities (since we all know by now that nothing that is said online is ever entirely gone). Conversation

You have a right to be concerned–after all, you don’t want your company’s reputation to suffer. On the other hand you don’t want to have to implement (and enforce) draconian rules that will sap morale and perhaps cause defections. What’s a leader to do? You can relax. There are manageable things you can do to protect your company’s reputation.

Want to know the easiest way to protect your company’s reputation online? I alluded to it in the conclusion of my last post. Need a hint? Here’s the key statement: “In the absence of other social media activity, Foursquare updates can define your company online.” Still not sure? Okay, I’ll tell you:

The number one thing a person or a company can do to protect an online reputation is to PARTICIPATE IN SOCIAL MEDIA.

Other people can dictate your reputation in the absence of your own activity. But if you actively engage in social media and take control of your online reputation you will drown out or otherwise discredit negative publicity. Those random Foursquare updates disappear in a sea of updates if you are actively engaging in social media on any platform.

That’s not to say that you want to bombard people with constant, meaningless drivel (i.e. your latest press release). The idea is to build relationships so that those random tweets, when they are seen, are viewed in a larger context and, we hope, dismissed as the mindless rantings they are. Do you think Zappos worries about employee Foursquare check-ins? Unless it’s from a competitor’s office I daresay not. There  is so much else being said about and by them and they are so busy otherwise engaging customers in meaningful dialogue that a rogue tweet isn’t going to matter much.

If your reputation is not as established as a company’s like Zappos then it is even more important for you to begin the work of establishing your presence online. Whether you start tweeting, creating a Facebook page, writing a blog or joining forums, the point is to get started doing SOMETHING. Google loves fresh content so the more you’re talking the more you’re being found.

In future posts I’ll tackle other ways to help your company (like providing social media education to employees) and provide tips on establishing a social media program at your company (Hint: Don’t just leave it to the interns and part-timers!).

Photo from Search Engine People Blog via Flickr