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

Conference attendance is critical for maintaining job focus   1 comment

For the past four days I have been immersed in all things communication. The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) 2011 World Conference was held here in San Diego and I was thrilled to be able to attend–especially considering how it lived up to its international name.

The U.S. Was still the number one country by number of participants, but do you have any idea what the next two were? The 2nd most well-represented country at then conference was Canada, followed by Australia. There must be something good going on if people are flying from halfway around the globe to be here.

So what did we do? We talked shop and it was wonderful. I enjoyed learning how to write for. different media with the renowned Steve Crescenzo, I was a presentation guinea pig for All-Star Jim Endicott, I hosted dinner for six of my peers at the delightful BiCE Ristorante. One of my favorite activities was shaking the hands of people who were previously only known by their avatars.

Probably the most significant thing I got out of the conference was the reassurance that I am on the right track. You know you’re in the right place when you genuinely ENJOY talking shop with your peers. Many of them are going through similar challenges as I have and it’s great to have that validation.

So I return to work tomorrow re-energized, re-focused and ready to do what it takes to get the job done.

Posted June 16, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Career, Professional Development

Why I blog. (And why you should, too.)   2 comments

BloggingI spent more than a year with the avid desire to start a blog, but many things stopped me (raise your hand if you have the same challenges):

  • Not enough time to dedicate to doing it right
  • Not sure of the topic (What new thing could I possibly have to say about my areas of expertise, marketing/communication/social media/business?)
  • Not enough time
  • Fear of being judged
  • Not enough time

Finally, a conversation with the lovely and intelligent Michele Dortch with Write to Incite inspired me to get started with SOMETHING. Essentially she told me that you just have to jump in and make it happen. So I made the commitment to do it no matter what. Now, what to write about?

I started researching topics and seeing what other people had run into the same challenges and concerns. So I Googled. And found this excellent post from Patrick Garmoe at PureDriven. Patrick was kind enough to give me his thoughts on writing about a common topic like marketing and I continue to be grateful for that. The comment that inspired me the most was this: “people buy from certain places because they like and trust the store staff, not because they can’t get the advice or items elsewhere.” It told me that I don’t have to be the first to say something, but if I’m bringing value to my readers (all three of you–hi, Mom!) through a unique perspective, then that’s what’s important. So I jumped in.

I’ve found that this blog is as much a creative outlet for me as anything. It’s also a way for me to take control of my online reputation. So far I’m just writing about whatever topic strikes my fancy in the broad marketing/social media space. I haven’t yet settled on what I hope to achieve with this blog, but I’ll get there. You don’t have to have all the answers when you start.

I’m also not doing this to get paid through ad sponsorships or to support a solo practice so I’m not worried about optimizing it for search engines just to drive traffic. While that kind of thing can be very helpful depending on your goals, like most things it takes time to do properly, especially on a new blog, and with a full-time job, a toddler, and some semblance of a life there’s only so much I can do. SEO is not a priority.

However, I do enjoy connecting with people and hearing their thoughts, which is why I decided on a blog format instead of an online journal or simply typing up a Word doc. I’m human, I have an ego, and I want to talk about things I am passionate about with people who are passionate about those same things. It helps if you enjoy developing relationships.

I am working to stay disciplined enough to post one solid article every Wednesday morning (which is why I have been at a laptop at 11pm each of the last several Tuesdays) because without a routine this blog would quickly lapse into nothingness. Sticking to a schedule is key.

I tell  you all of this because if you’ve been thinking about it and want to do it, now is the time. I don’t care what excuses you have. They are not acceptable. Just dive in and start writing, even a brief one hundred words at a time. You won’t hit a home run every time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing at all. If you’re doing it just for the attention, there are easier ways to get that. Blog because you want to and will enjoy it regardless of the response.

Image credit: Search Engine People Blog via Flickr

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

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

The three faces of Lindsay   1 comment

Multiple personality disorderI have a secret. When I’m alone or at home, I sometimes…swear. That’s right, when left to my own devices, especially in my car, I let loose with an occasional f-bomb or other vulgar obscenity. Why am I telling you this? Because chances are you will never experience it firsthand. If you are someone I interact with professionally, you will be very hard-pressed to ever hear me utter such a word. I have a professional persona to live up to and that persona does not swear. And I think this is a necessary thing in the business world–and the online world.

Will the real Lindsay Ball please stand up?
Some people believe it is disingenuous to have personas. “You should be your true self all the time,” I’ve been told. But we all have multiple personalities. The “public” you vs. the “private” you. The you that your family sees, the you that your friends see, the you that your other friends see. I don’t think of it as not being “me” though. “Me” constitutes an entire range of emotions, likes, dislikes, and other distinctive personality traits. Different people and situations bring out different aspects of my personality. I listen to country music with some friends and Top 40 with others. I believe this helps me succeed.

Birth of a persona
While I might enjoy letting loose in my car, not all of my colleagues may appreciate this behavior. And so the business persona is born. It’s still me, but the traits that are most suitable for a business setting are highlighted and others are downplayed. I love my jeans and flip flops on the weekend, but that doesn’t mean I wear them to work. Same goes for the online world. Everything that I say online is my own true thought, but they are just snippets of the whole me, just one color out of the Crayon box.

I’ve also taken this concept a step further online. I have decided that, for me, LinkedIn is the online equivalent of office Lindsay. Twitter is happy hour Lindsay–still professional, but a bit more casual. Facebook is weekend Lindsay so I don’t use it for work. The challenge is when people begin to not like their own persona. That’s when it becomes fake and not a true representation of yourself. I am thankful this isn’t a problem for me, but I can sense when other people don’t believe or don’t like the front they’re putting on. It’s important that these other yous are still YOU. Being genuine is key.

The best “me” for the situation
Identifying who I am in different situations allows me to bring out the parts of my personality that are best suited for each of those situations. It means not cursing at the office. It means not pestering my LinkedIn contacts with drivel about my day that my Facebook friends are more willing to suffer through. That way the people who interact with me in each of those places know what to expect from me. In the workplace this helps me be seen as dependable.

So keep your work persona clean, but don’t be afraid to let loose with an F-bomb in the comfort and safety of your car. As long as you’re not carpooling.

Image Credit: Idol via Flickr

Welcome to the Rational Communicator!   3 comments

I was seven the first time I asked Santa for a computer. I know because my mother recently sent me the Christmas list she saved all these years. Not only that, but apparently I had been wanting one for “years” already. I saved up my allowance for months and bought a Nintendo when I was 10. Clearly technology has always been a fascination of mine. Combine that with the thousands of hours I’ve spent with my nose in a book and it now seems inevitable that I would one day have a blog.

Why a blog?
I often find myself with more thoughts rattling around in my head than I know what to do with. In particular, I find there are many things I want to say about marketing, communication, social media and business in general. So this is my outlet, a place to organize my thoughts (and get them out of my head!). If people find it useful, all the better!

Lindsay circa 1984

Lindsay circa 1984

Great, so who are you?
I’m finding that it’s much easier to write about business than it is to write about myself! In addition to being a Michael Jackson fan from an early age  (as evidenced by the photo at right), here are some basics about me that will flavor this blog. I am an in-betweener, a social mutt if you will, a mix of a number of disparate influences. For example:

  • I grew up in the South, went to college on the East Coast and now, thanks to a convoluted series of events, live on the West Coast.
  • Depending on whom you ask I am either a very young member of Generation X or one of the first members of Generation Y. I find that neither label suits me. I like to think I have good qualities from the stereotype of each generation, namely the inherent tech skills of my younger brethren and the pragmatism of my elder kin.
  • Despite having a prestigious business degree I took a non-traditional path after college. No consulting firms or investment banks for me! And yet somehow I’ve survived and then some.

I’m still listening. So why “rational” communicator?
I define a rational communicator not only as someone who thinks before they speak, but also someone who communicates with the recipient in mind. Through all of my experiences, my journeys, and my travels, the number one thing that fascinates me is communication, especially written communication. I love words and I see the power of effective communication. I also see and experience the havoc poor communication can wreak, especially in a business setting. My aim when communicating, particularly in the workplace, is to be understood by my audience.

Communication is a broad topic though so to narrow it down I’m throwing in a couple of my other favorite things: marketing and social media. If you’re up for joining me as I explore these topics from the perspective of an in-betweener striving to advance her career while attempting to maintain her sanity then I am glad to have you along. Please note that a healthy dose of dry humor will often be involved.

As a professional communicator I am always interested to hear other people’s thoughts and look forward to hearing yours.