Monthly Archives: September 2009

Bowling for Business: Getting My Tweet Wet

This column first appeared on 9-21-09 at RIMOFTHEWORLD.net

Twitter bird announceWhen it comes to games of chance, I’ve never been particularly lucky. In fact, I can probably count the number of times I’ve won contests on one hand. So it isn’t difficult recalling the win that meant the most.

I was just five years old. My favorite television show was a local children’s program called Noel & Andy. Noel was a talented artist; Andy, her puppet counterpart.

I got up early every weekday morning to watch Noel & Andy because, as a kindergartner, my social calendar was pretty light. What’s more, this was long before the days of cable or satellite. Thus, there were only four shows to choose from at any given time.

So I was eager to enter a contest to win an invitation to Andy’s televised birthday party. The morning Noel randomly chose my entry, I ran to the kitchen to tell my mom the great news. In my world, Noel & Andy were bona fide stars. This was the big time.

The day of the taping, I was anxious to meet my television idols. But I never got the opportunity. Twenty other lucky Denver-area schoolchildren and I met the producers, who led us into an empty studio. They told us to have fun, eat cake, and smile at the cameras. Noel & Andy couldn’t be there, they explained. But they would want us to celebrate. Then, they turned us loose. The result was cacophony.

When the birthday party aired, it looked like a scene out of Plant of the Apes. Unlimited sugar and lack of supervision had turned otherwise mild-mannered five-year-old kids into an angry mob. At one point, I was standing on a table, singing and waving at the camera.

To this day, I’ll never understand why Andy didn’t attend his own birthday party. But the event reminds me of my journey on Twitter…full of promise, chaos, and opportunities to rub shoulders with important people and puppets.

Twitter Promise

I first heard about Twitter at a seminar sponsored by the Inland Empire Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Speakers Brian Solis and Sally Falkow, recognized thought-leaders in my field, invited us to follow their tweets. It sounded exclusive and, admittedly, a bit odd.

But I was curious. Imagine having access to valuable industry tidbits, in real time?  With this kind of connection, we wouldn’t have to wait for the next professional development luncheon for inside information.

So, like many of my peers, I rushed back to the office to boot up my computer and join the conversation. Mind you, this was before resources like The TwitterBook and TwitterPower hit the market. So I didn’t know that it is better to set up an account with your actual name instead of a pseudonym. That’s why you won’t find my tweets if you do a search for Kathy Bowling.

Twitter Chaos

As @bowlingirl, I searched for @briansolis and @sallyfalkow and followed them. But I didn’t know what I was doing. Millions of disorganized people seemed to be yelling into the Twittersphere, much like my wild Noel & Andy party-going friends. One user posed a question,

“How can I syndicate my blog?”

But instead of an answer appearing next, random, un-related comments streamed by.

“I hate Wednesday mornings. Hump day should be abolished.”

“State politics blocks budget. It is playground politics.”

“We cannot do great things – only small things with great love- Mother Teresa.”

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what was going on.

This is Wikipedia’s definition,

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter website or external applications.

In other words, Twitter is controlled chaos. It’s a place for people to share their philosophies, sell their wares, deliver news, develop a fan base, and converse…all at the same time.

Twitter Opportunities

At Mountain Marketing Group, we encourage our PR clients to dive right in by setting up a free Twitter account. The next thing we advise is that they take time to listen. In the same way you wouldn’t walk up to a group of people who are chatting and interrupt them all by loudly announcing that you want them to buy your product, it is not considered polite to tweet first and listen, later.

As noted by one of the most influential Tweeps today, @joelcomm,

“Twitter is a two-way communication tool—and that’s very important.”

In his book, twitter power, he observes,

“Twitter provides instant access to smart people 24/7.”

By listening and getting a feel for the flow, you will understand what, if anything, you have to contribute. In this age where Internet users actively search for the information they want instead of being force-fed (pull instead of push-technology), providing valuable content is tantamount to establishing a credible voice in Cyberspace. You can’t play if you don’t bring anything to the game.

After you observe, find people to follow who have something to offer. I follow PR and marketing influencers like @mashable and @chrisbrogan so I can distill relevant information to share it with my friends, family and clients with a direct quote, retweet or link. Evangelizing is something I’ve done my entire career. But now, I am able to share what I learn with a wider audience.

Joining the conversation on Twitter has broadened my horizons, which makes me more valuable to my target market. More importantly, by underlining the biblical instruction to be quick to hear and slow to speak, it has made me a better person. And that’s the best win of all.

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

The Good, the Blog and the Ugly

This column originally appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on Sunday, September 13, 2009

blogWhenever I’m tempted to drone on in blogs and columns, I remember a particularly disturbing episode of the Twilight Zone called The Living Doll. In it, a talking doll named Tina has it out for her owner’s father, played by Telly Savalas.

Maybe her hatred is due to the fact he is bald. Or maybe it’s because he has a hideous mole on his face. Or perhaps it’s because he’s the only one who can hear her deliver eerie lines that are not a part of her programmed vocabulary. No one knows for sure.

Whatever the reason, Talky Tina spends the entire episode making Telly angry. In fact, by the end of the show, in a desperate attempt to shut her up, he forces her tiny plastic head into a vice grip and cranks away.

If nothing else, the show serves to remind me to stick to the script when it comes to writing or speaking in public. After all, the inspiration for the doll was Chatty Cathy.

But it’s hard to find the balance in blogging. The word “blog” sounds a lot like “blah, blah, blah.” And that generally communicates the idea that you should keep talking regardless of whether you have anything valuable to say.

In the early days of the blog, pioneers staked their claims with long, verbose diatribes. At the time, only a few writers were contributing to the blogosphere. Content was scarce. So people were patient.

In the intervening years, an era most social media pundits refer to as Web 2.0, the blog has became the quintessential tool for personal and business communication.

According to Wikipedia, in December 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs. At the speed of web, that number is probably into the billions by now. So how have the rules changed? Is it still important to blog? Why bother? How can that many people have so much to say?

When it comes to electronic communication in 2009, it all boils down to this:

The Good, the Blog and the Ugly

The Good

I believe it’s still important to maintain a blog in today’s business climate. Where business owners once hired professional website developers and designers to create state-of-the-art electronic brochures of their companies, and allowed those six-figure sites to rot in Cyberspace, the new order of the day is to slap something together and post it before the URL has time to rank.

Good is no longer measured in terms of a pleasant aesthetic. Today, most people are comfortable surfing the web. In fact, World Internet Usage Statistics puts the number of active Internet users at 1,668,870,408.

True, it may have taken most of us awhile to catch up with the early adapters. But we learned. And, now, we recognize that highlighted words are hyperlinks and widgets are click-able windows that whisk us from one world to another. So, we are no longer content to spend time on a single site. I call it Digital ADD.

The solution? If you can’t beat them, tweet them. Set up a website or blog as the hub of all of your information. And then, create several smaller sites that point back to the hub. In our advertising and public relations agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we explain the strategy like this.

Your blog should serve as a large body of information, like a lake. Social networking sites are like tributaries and streams that ebb and flow back to the lake, which is the source of your information. Since people want to click, let them spend their time clicking inside your site. And while they’re there, the best way to share your point of view is with a well-constructed blog.

The Blog

How do you write a blog that people will actually read? When she first started blogging her way through Julia Child’s cookbook, now acclaimed author Julie Powell said that it felt as if she was sending her initial posts into a giant abyss. Was anyone reading? Did anyone care?

This is the litmus test for whether or not you have anything worthwhile to say. Is your heart beating? If so, then you have what it takes to create content. You are uniquely you. Only you can tell your story. Only you can sell your product.

So be bold. Blog. Be short and sweet. Talk to your readers as though they were sitting across the table from you. Tell them what you would if you were chatting in person. My clients hear this charge, often.

Be who you are in the real world. Just do it in Cyberspace.

The Ugly

Now that I’ve (hopefully) emboldened you to blog, let me touch on what not to do.

  • Don’t pretend to know everything. You don’t. And everyone knows it. When they read your blog online, they are only a click away from checking every detail that you share. So be authentic.
  • Don’t write long narratives without breaking up the copy with images, videos, hyperlinks and bullet points. If all your readers see is a sea of copy, they will quickly click away.
  • Don’t forget that your words will live on in infamy. One of the authors of groundswell, equates trying to remove something from the Internet with attempting to retrieve pee from a swimming pool.

Don’t ignore your readers. Provide a place for comments. And when readers write, give the courtesy of a reply.

Whatever you do (and this is probably the most important tip of all), don’t irritate Talky Tina.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Website Monkey Business

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on 9-07-09 at 4:13 p.m.

By Kathy Bowling

I grew up in the 70s. So, in my children’s eyes, that makes me roughly the age of dirt. Considering how much change I’ve witnessed in the field of technology over the past 30 years, I see their point. Consider the evolution of communication.

In the “old days,” if you wanted to contact someone, you had three options. Send a letter, place a call, or get up off of the couch and travel to meet them, in person. As a young girl, I lacked resources like postage stamps and a driver’s license; so I grew up with a rather pathetic dependence on the phone.

So, when my best friend, Lori, found out she was moving to the country, to a town that was a 30-minute drive away from my house, we panicked. How would we stay in touch?

Apparently deficient in our ability to reason, we came up with a sure-fire plan. We would adopt a monkey, which we would share. Our strategy was simple. Joint custody would mandate that our parents drive us to each other’s homes on a weekly basis.

Even then, I was surprised that my mother allowed us to peruse the phone book in our quest. After all, neither of us had any money. And primates are not exactly known for being easy to control.

What my mother knew that I did not was that there were only three pet stores located in the Metro Denver area. And, as Lori and I quickly ascertained, none of them carried simians. So, we had no choice but to abandon the scheme.

Had the situation unfolded today, things would have been much different. A Google Search on “Cheap Monkeys for Sale” returns 33 million hits in .26 seconds. If Lori and I had access to the Internet, the two of us might still be sharing custody of a 145-pound chimpanzee.

monkey business pic

Thanks to the World Wide Web, information is instantaneous. Location is moot. Possibilities are endless. If you want to buy a product or service, you will have more trouble narrowing your search than uncovering options. If you want to sell a product or service, the world is your oyster.

In our Lake Arrowhead advertising and public relations agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we encourage our clients to strike while the iron is hot. Whether you want to share a political perspective, recipe, timely message, or a new invention, the best way to do so is by posting it in Cyberspace.

So why doesn’t everyone advertise online? The following are the objections I most often hear:

I don’t have enough money to invest in a website.

If you are waiting until money flows like honey so you can build a state-of-the-art website, you are losing valuable time you could be using to build your brand. While you sit on the bench, your competitors are already in the field, establishing a seasoned Internet presence that you will be hard-pressed to catch.

You don’t have to develop the “be-all-end-all” website on your first attempt. In fact; whatever site you create, you should always consider a work-in-progress. Instead of a static corporate brochure converted to an electronic medium, your online persona should be dynamic, interactive, and constantly evolving.

There are thousands of inexpensive, user-friendly, template-based website hosting-services available, like the one I used to get my feet wet.

If free is the only budget that works for your company or ministry, set up a basic blog using either Blogger or WordPress. And don’t let the word, “blog” scare you away. While a blog is a weblog or journal (which we’ll discuss in future columns), these free blogging programs are really just simple, user-friendly websites.

I think most people still use the phone book.

According to an August 13, 2009 report released by Marketwire,  a WhitePages’ survey found that 78.5 percent of US adults prefer using online directories, their inner network of friends and family, search engines, and social networks over the white pages phone book.

Even though ads in the phone book/real estate magazine/newspaper /fill in the blank are ineffective and expensive, it’s the way we have always done it.

I can’t make pot roast without thinking about the well-known parable of a young housewife who cut off both ends of the meat before roasting. When her husband asked her the reason, she didn’t know. So she called her mother to ask.

Her mom told her, “I don’t know. That’s how Grandma used to make it. Let me check with her.”

When the grandmother was asked, she explained, “I had to cut off the ends because our pan was too small for the roast.”

Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Be intentional with your advertising strategy. If you’d prefer to sit back and wait for the “next big thing,” take notice. Social media IS the next big thing. And you can’t join the conversation until you’ve set up a virtual shop.

Take it from Forrester Research executives and authors, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, in the social media book I highly recommend, groundswell.

You cannot ignore this trend. You cannot sit this one out. Unless you are retiring in the next six months, it’s too late to quit and let somebody else handle it. The groundswell trend is unstoppable, and your customers are there. You may go a little slower or a little faster, but you have to move forward. There is no going back.

Thirty-eight years later, Lori and I remain friends. Although neither of us owns a pet monkey, we keep in touch, mostly, via the Internet. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

This article was first published on RimoftheWorld.net Friday, September 4, 2009 at 4:13 pm.

Bowling for Business: The Internet Imperative

Using the Internet to Advertise is Imperative

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on August 31, 2009

My first experience as an entrepreneur dates back to 1974, when my best friend, Lori, and I opened a lemonade stand. Typical, I know. But our approach was not. You see; we lived on a pretty quiet street in Englewood, Colorado. After our first two days in business, we realized that the only regular traffic was the mailman and my father.

Not content to wait for customers to come to us, on day three, Lori and I took a more aggressive approach. We decided to sell lemonade door-to-door. You might be surprised at the relative success of our new strategy. Since this was 35 years ago, admittedly a much simpler time, not only did most people answer the door and take pity on us by forking over 10 cents a glass, most of them probably actually drank the beverages they purchased.

Ever since, I’ve been a staunch proponent for assertively pursuing market share. I guess that’s why I went into advertising. It’s also probably the reason I was so quick to jump on the Internet bandwagon. No matter whether Al Gore helped invent it or not, I believe Cyberspace to be the single most important invention for business since the coffee break.

While it was once necessary to set up a physical shop in order to be taken seriously in business, the “must have for business” in 2009 is an Internet presence. Not yet convinced? Consider the following:

According to the World Internet Usage Statistics website—

  • 251,735,500 Americans (73.9% of the population) have access to the Internet.

According to a report released by Nielsen Research

  • Among Internet users in the United States, 94% have shopped online.
  • Globally, 875 million people have made at least one online purchase.
  • Two-thirds of the world Internet population participates in social networking or blogging sites.

According to an article posted in the April 2009 issue of NZ Business—

  • Today more than two thirds of new business enquiries begin online.

Remarkably, at our Lake Arrowhead marketing and public relations’ agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we still spend a considerable amount of time trying to convince our clients that their business success is closely tied to the presence they allow us to help them establish online. And Lake Arrowhead is no Mayberry RFD.

I think the reluctance to embark on an Internet marketing campaign is tied to fear.

  • Several wonder about the potential Return on Investment.
  • Some worry that they will lose touch with their existing customer-base if they start courting buyers online.
  • Many are intimidated by the sheer number of electronic advertising and social networking platforms that are available.
  • A few are still waiting, maybe even hoping, that the Internet craze will pass.

With this column, I hope to alleviate these fears by shedding light on how easy, effective, and necessary it is for business owners and non-profit directors to get busy online. Not just for beginners, we’ll also highlight industry tips and trends designed to improve Internet performance for seasoned Internet pros.

This week, let me assure you that, like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. So why not embrace it? Learn about it? Exploit it? If the thought of setting up your own website is daunting, consider taking advantage of the plethora of free platforms waiting for you to enter a unique username and password. Even if you’ve hosted your own interactive website for years, these sites offer valuable back link opportunities, which drive Search Engine Optimization. We’ll cover back links and SEO in the weeks ahead.

Far less time-consuming to create than an original website or even a blog, these free directory listings help define your organization’s online persona because they are credible, established accounts. So even new businesses and non-profits included on them are immune from what’s known as the Google Sandbox, an otherwise unavoidable waiting period every new site must endure before Meta Crawlers recognize their existence on the Internet.

There are dozens of available free, directory sites. But these are the ones I recommend:

Google Directory

MerchantCircle

Rim of the World

Wikipedia AboutUs.org

Yellow Pages.com

Invest a little time online today to list your company, business service or non-profit in the free directories, above. As some unaccredited author once wrote, “A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.”

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business