Archive for the ‘Branding’ 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

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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

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

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

Tainted Love: Foursquare’s Unintended Side Effects   1 comment

What if your employees’ personal lives and “off the record” opinions defined your company? Not how they perform at work. Not just senior management. Any employee, going about their normal life. If your employees are avid users of social media and your company is not, then there’s a good chance they are the ones defining your company online–perhaps without even realizing it. Even employees who love their company may unintentionally taint its reputation.

Recently I was researching a couple of companies online in order to provide friends with some social media tips. These companies have minimal “official” social media presences, but one thing in particular jumped out at me: their employees are using Foursquare. Often. And the picture it paints is not always pretty.

So why pick on Foursquare? What makes it different?Foursquare Badges If an employee is blogging, or even micro-blogging, they are conscious of what they’re writing and the online presence they are creating. However, when they check into a place on Foursquare they are more likely to be “in the moment” and less likely to be thinking of the business implications of those check-ins. They might include an off-hand comment that suits the moment, such as checking into their favorite bar on a Friday night and commenting, “Epic party! Buying the next round of shots!” If their Foursquare account is linked to their Twitter account, and many of them are, then the entire Twitterverse is now privy to their fun.

“What employees do on their own time is their business,” you might say. “As long as they’re not identifying themselves as an employee or sending inappropriate messages on behalf of the company it’s not a problem.” This is where Foursquare closes the loop and your reputation takes a hit. What I found when researching these companies is that those same employees who partied on Friday night were using Foursquare to check into work come Monday morning.  Now your company name is attached to that person and any other activities they publish. When someone does a search for your company in the social media sphere those Foursquare updates can come up big and bold. Depending on the strength of your company’s official online presence, those check-ins may appear in a simple Google search of your company.

The other thing I was shocked to find during my research was employees using Foursquare to check into work–and writing disparaging comments about work when checking in! Unhappy employees were casually venting their frustration to Foursquare and, by extension, Twitter and the rest of the Internet.

Is this the branding kiss of death? Of course not. Might it make some people think twice about working with or for you? Maybe. We all fight night and day for a piece of the customer’s pie and none of us need to put speed bumps or road blocks in their way.

The moral of the story?

In the absence of other social media activity, Foursquare updates can define your company online.

Stay tuned for future posts with recommendations on how to minimize the impact of these activities on your company and keep your employees’ love from tainting your online reputation. (Here’s a hint: Banning the use of social media by employees is NOT the answer!)


Photo credit: Nan Palmero via Flickr