Monthly Archives: October 2009

Bowling for Business: Lurk Alive

man at a desk

Are you and Internet Lurker?

by Kathy Bowling

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on October 12, 2009.

Our house is such a cluttered mess, walking from the living room to the kitchen is like navigating landmines on the Mekong Delta. Between the dog toys, shoes, old homework papers and abandoned board games strewn across the floor, I’m lucky if I make it out the front door without spraining an ankle.

I can relate to the mother from the comic strip, Family Circus. Whenever something spills or breaks, she asks the kids who is responsible. The answer is always the same, “Not me!” And, in the distance, a little gremlin named “Not Me” flees the scene. Apparently, he heads for my house. Because anytime we ask our girls who left a bowl of cereal and congealed milk on the coffee table, they refer to him.

But the actual reason for the mess is that my home is filled with passive consumers instead of active contributors. Our kids just don’t consider it their responsibility to help with the running of our household. Many people on the Internet share our daughters’ passive attitudes. Read, research, rinse and repeat. While this tactic might work for hobbyists, when it comes to business, you need to take an active approach.

And according to Internet statistics’ pundit Jakob Nielsen, the door for action is wide open. In his heavily-trafficked online Alertbox, Neilsen says, “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”

So where do you fall? Are you a dynamic contributor or a passive lurker? Wikipedia defines an Internet Lurker as a person who reads discussions on a message board, newsgroup, chat room, file sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively.

In case you’re still unsure of your status, here’s a little quiz to help you figure it out.

Are You a Lurker?

1. If you read blogs but never post comments, you might be a lurker.

2. If you join chat rooms just to follow other peoples’ conversations, you might be a lurker.

3. If you sign up for newsgroups but never add to article threads, you might be a lurker.

4. If you have no need for your keyboard while you’re surfing the Net, you might be a lurker.

5. If you didn’t realize you are allowed to comment on blog posts, in chat rooms and in news groups, you might be a lurker.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, the good news is there is hope. The verb to “de-lurk” also appears in Wikipedia. De-lurk is defined as taking initiative to start contributing actively to a community having been a lurker previously. (And I’m not making this stuff up.)

So how can you turn the tide and de-lurk? Web 2.0 is all about conversation. Contributors add to the discussion by setting up and regularly posting to their own blogs. Critics respond to other peoples’ blogs, adding comments to discussion threads on social networks, and replying to online conversations.

Josh Bernoff, of Forrester Research, and one of the authors of groundswell, defines the groups, as follows:

  • 21% of online US consumers are Creators
  • 37% are Critics (those who react to content created by others)
  • 69% are Spectators.

My ad agency, Mountain Marketing Group, has discovered a similar phenomenon among our church and para-church clients. In many charitable organizations, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. So, when it comes to influencing decisions, who do you suppose has the most say? According to ICWM.net, the short answer is that the power belongs to the movers and the shakers.

Since so few people on the Internet create original content, consider the opportunity to shape the business or non-profit landscape if you have the courage to get off the bench. If you’re game, here are some simple steps to take you from lurker/spectator to industry thought-leader.

  1. Comment on this article thread. I’d be honored to be your first.
  2. Do a search on Technorati for blog-posts that are relative to your areas of interest and expertise. Read and comment on any that strike a chord.
  3. If you have not done so already, set up a free blog. For tips on how to create a blog, check out the Bowling for Business post.
  4. Once you’re on the map, set up a free account that will help you check out Internet conversations in real time, so you can comment at will. One well-known site for this type of monitoring is FriendFeed. Another, relatively new but highly intuitive way to do so is with backtype, which creators describe as “a real-time conversational search to surface what reputable people are saying about topics and web pages that interest you.”

Following these steps will establish your company or organization a leader in the field. All you have to do is lurk alive.

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

Bowling for Business: Everything but the Kitchen Link

Full Spectrum Unity Holding Hands

The Top 10 Steps to Use LinkedIn for Business

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on 10-05-09

I’m often on the Internet for work. Really…it’s for work. So it isn’t my fault that I was so engrossed in posting to social media accounts last week that I failed to wake up my 13-year-old daughter for school. At least that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

Unfortunately, the argument didn’t hold much weight when Kaitlin bounded up the stairs at 9:30 with both barrels loaded, screaming, “Mom, what are you doing? Did you forget about me? You made me miss the bus.”

And then the bombshell, “Are you playing on your computer again?”

Now, admittedly, I spend a lot of time on my laptop. And when I’m not on it, I’m usually developing arthritic cramps in my fingers by typing on my tiny Crackberry keyboard. But there’s a reason for my obsession. Like most boutique advertising and public relations agencies, our firm is all about communication. We help people connect with current and potential customers and business associates by linking them with tools of the trade such as brochures, fliers, press releases and websites.

But my favorite method for communication is social media. I look forward to updating and reading posts and checking out photo uploads from friends on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. And, when it comes to business, it’s all about LinkedIn.

“What is it you do all day on the computer, anyway?” Kaitlin continued her somewhat justifiable tirade, while looking over my shoulder, “Are you on MySpace?”

“No. This is for professionals. It’s called LinkedIn,” I countered.

“Looks like MySpace to me,” she said. “Photos, groups, comments…”

“Well, it’s not for teenagers. Most of the people on LinkedIn are 40 years old and have household incomes of more than $100,000 a year,” I explained. “Besides, look at the pictures. People are wearing suits. Their posts are boring. And very few of them are smiling.”

“True,” she admitted. “So it’s sort of like MySpace for old people.”

To end the argument, I relented, “Exactly.”

But, in reality, there is a lot more to LinkedIn than my daughter’s rudimentary assessment. Launched in May, 2007, the site is the largest professional network in the world, with 25 million members representing 150 industries.

According to Krista Canfield, public relations manager for LinkedIn, “Basically what LinkedIn does is [to] help professionals accelerate their success.”

Consider this assessment of the site by the folks who brought us the Social Media Bible, “Anytime there is a tool that millions of people in one place at one time all with common interests are clamoring to use, you, as a businessperson, need to understand and take part of it.”

But where do you begin?

The Top 10 Things You Should be doing on LinkedIn

  1. Create a profile. Like other networking sites, LinkedIn has a user-friendly platform. So you don’t have to be a computer prodigy to follow the step-by-step tutorial in order to set up your free account. Just login to LinkedIn and get started.
  2. Complete your profile. Incomplete profiles send the wrong message. Make sure you list current and previous employment, education, honors and awards, even if you are not looking for a job.
  3. Invite friends and associates. LinkedIn is all about connections. Remember the classic Faberge Organic Shampoo commercial where Heather Locklear (yes, it was her) asked us to tell two friends about our shampoo so they would tell two friends…and so on, and so on? With LinkedIn, you will be able to connect with “first-tier” associates as well as connections’ connections, and so on, and so on…
  4. Seek Introductions. People debate the ideal number of connections. Some say that a list of more than 100 is too difficult to manage while others argue the more, the better. While the jury is still out, according to noted author and social media guru, Guy Kawasaki, “People with more than 20 connections are 34 times more likely to be approached with a job opportunity than people with less than five.”
  5. Write Recommendations. Take a few minutes to recommend your colleagues. When you post your referral, LinkedIn will send it for approval, asking the person you recommended to write a recommendation for you. This is worth the investment because, as I’ve learned from my membership in the SBBE chapter of BNI, the largest networking group in the real world, givers always gain.
  6. Join groups. Whatever your expertise or interest, a LinkedIn group exists. And you can join up to 50 of them. I recommend you connect with a couple of key professional groups as well as alumni groups, both from college as well as high school, as well as past companies. When your membership is approved, you get to display the group logo on your profile. How cool is that?
  7. Invite group members to join your network. Once you’re admitted to a new group, seek out strategic connections inside that group.
  8. Micro-blog. Called “Status Updates,” LinkedIn allows for short posts. Most people learned, early on, not to use this feature to report their breakfast menu. Instead, use it to provide industry info and relevant links. Posting once or twice a day is generally considered polite etiquette in LinkedIn Land.
  9. Look for a job, a sale or a partnership. According to communications guru Guy Kawasaki, “Most people use LinkedIn to “get to someone” in order to sell their product or service, form a partnership, or land a job.
  10. Participate in discussions. Follow group discussions. This is your chance to share your two cents and to learn from others. You can also take advantage of your connections by asking for advice.

So, on my next status update, I’m going to pose a question, “Where is the best place to buy an alarm clock for a sleepy teenager?”

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

Bowling for Business: About Face(book)

Hey Culligan Man

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on 9-28-09

Every September 24 since I could talk, I’ve told anyone within earshot that it was my birthday…family, friends, the Culligan Man. Typically, the polite, sometimes somewhat perplexed response was, “Well, then…Happy Birthday.” With that wish, I would merrily go on my way, eager to share the message with the rest of the world. In the early years, cashiers, waitresses, tax attorneys and used car salesmen would ask my age.

Thankfully, I no longer field that particular question…probably because I am old. But maybe it’s also because I no longer blurt out my birthday. This year, thanks to Facebook, I didn’t have to. When I booted up my laptop this September 24, I was greeted by dozens of well wishes from Facebook friends who responded to the Facebook-generated birthday notification. With that simple application, I became a bona-fide FB fan. (Admittedly, not everyone is a fan of this particular feature.)

According to the Facebook Factsheet,  Facebook was founded in February 2004 as a “social utility designed to help people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers…in a trusted environment.” Five years and more than 300 million active users later, Facebook is the second most-trafficked PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) site in the world, running thousands of databases and serving millions of queries a day. Also of note, the fastest growing FB demographic is people who are at least 35 years old.

The reason FB is popular is that it is exceedingly user-friendly. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of how to type on a keyboard and upload a photograph can use it. And, like all successful social networking websites, Facebook is free. Although it might have initially appealed mostly to people who wanted to reconnect with faraway friends, it has slowly emerged as one of the premiere ways for business men and women to exchange ideas and share information.

According to the Social Media Bible, the reason for the transition is all about networking, “By developing and cultivating networks, your organization can create an opportunity to develop the trust that may result in more sales.” Just like in the real world, relationships that start off social in Cyberspace sometimes lead to business deals.

Consider one of our clients at Mountain Marketing Group. He set up a Facebook account about a year ago, at the urging of a high school buddy. “At the time, I had no ulterior motive for setting up the account. But it was easy and free. So I figured, ‘Why not?’”

Initially adding people to his network only if he knew them in the real world, Dave eventually started broadening his horizons by including friends of friends. Within a few months, his network numbered in the hundreds. Since many of his Facebook friends have hair, they sometimes need cuts and color. By casually mentioning a fundraising cut-a-thon on one of his posts, he said the “accidental advertisement” convinced several people to make the leap from casual Facebook friend to real world hairstyling client. And Dave is hardly alone.

Consider the sitting president. Many pundits attribute the success of his campaign to the way he and his team leveraged social media. According to his publicists, “The goals of the campaign were to increase our number of Facebook fans; raise awareness of NYTimes.com as an interactive news center; and engage the Facebook community in a conversation about the election outcome.”

What’s more, Obama’s social media strategists said, “We increased our number of fans more than three times in just 24 hours — from 49,000 to 164,000 — and in the process far exceeded our 2008 goal of 100,000 fans. Possibly the greatest success of this campaign, however, is that our fans continue to rapidly grow…into a powerful, free word-of-mouth network that we will leverage for future marketing messages.”

Facebook has been equally effective for apolitical non-profits. According to a recent post by Rob Bergfeld’s  SmartBlog on Social Media, the online director of the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), Wick Davis, said that LFA’s Facebook strategy increased donations by 790 percent. Yes, you read that right…790%.

By setting up a simple Cause application, Davis said, “When I took over as the admin for the Lupus Foundation of America’s cause in Facebook in mid-January 2009, our cause had less than 3,000 members, and had raised $630. Since I had no idea when our Cause was created, I had no idea how long those figures had been at that level. I’m pleased to share that as of today (6 months later) LFA’s cause now has more than 21,200 members. And during that same 6-month timeframe, we’ve raised a total of more than $5,700. And those figures only represent LFA’s ‘official’ cause in Facebook.”

So, whether your goal is fund-raising, building a virtual farm, poking people just for the heck of it, generating traffic for an industry event, or announcing your birthday to the world, the answer is at your fingertips. Just do an About Face.

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